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Nissan hybrid delay for Oz

Special FX: Is there a hybrid future for Infinity's large luxury SUV?

Under Infiniti, Nissan will introduce a hybrid – but Australia misses out for now

16 May 2008

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in PORTUGAL

NISSAN is to roll out a petrol-electric hybrid system in some of its vehicles, starting from 2010.

However, as the hybrid technology is initially slated for Nissan’s upmarket Infiniti brand, the likelihood is slim that Australian buyers will see it for a number of years, as Nissan is coy about any plans for Infiniti in Australia.

Nevertheless, beyond the 2010 Infiniti, we can expect to see the all-new hybrid technology rolled out into future Nissan and Renault models which will make it to Australia, according to one Nissan source.

The Nissan hybrid system is still top secret, but we can reveal that it is a less complicated system than Toyota’s, not relying on a special CVT continuously variable transmission.

According to Yo Usuba, senior vice president and general manager for powertrain engineering, the Nissan hybrid system will employ an existing fully automatic gearbox.

“Nissan uses a conventional automatic gearbox for a more direct feel,” he revealed to GoAuto Media at the Nissan 360 global drive event in Portugal last week.

The most likely automatic will be the new seven-speed transmission that Nissan has been developing with specialists JATCO (Japanese Automatic Transmission Company) – a subsidiary of Nissan.

12 center imageLeft: Infiniti EX35 SUV and G35 sedan.

Mr Usuba also revealed that while Nissan is taking charge of developing hybrid technologies for America and Japan, Alliance partner Renault will oversee diesel development for Europe.

“Diesel is better for European tastes, but in the United States and Japan, because of traffic jams, hybrid is better for fuel economy.

“Plus, Europeans like manual transmission and diesels more.” Improved efficiencies, regeneration of kinetic energy through braking, and the carbon dioxide-reducing start-stop technologies are some of the other benefits Mr Usuba associates with Nissan’s hybrid system.

However, he stopped short of revealing what Nissan’s fuel consumption or carbon dioxide emission rating targets are.

“I cannot yet tell you what these are,” Mr Usuba said.

The 2010 Infiniti will not be the company’s first hybrid.

In 2000 Nissan became just the third manufacturer behind Toyota and Honda (with the two-seater Insight) to introduce a hybrid system, with 100 examples of the Almera Tino mini people mover built in Japan.

And in late 2006, Nissan released the Altima Hybrid using hybrid and CVT transmission technology purchased from rival Toyota. Ironically, this US-market mid-sized sedan combats the Camry Hybrid in America, as well as the Honda Accord Hybrid.

Nissan, like most other manufacturers, had been left reeling by Toyota’s initiative with the Prius.

However, Mr Usuba says that Nissan’s well-publicised financial crisis of the latter 1990s and its subsequent recovery plan after Renault bailed it out, precluded any development of a hybrid system beyond the Tino experiment.

Still, Nissan felt that it could not let the Altima fall behind in the crucial mid-sized sedan segment against Camry and Accord, so it struck the Toyota deal for the 2007 model year Altima – but only in the states of California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Jersey.

When the first production-ready petrol/electric hybrid was unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, few people could have foreseen its rapid adoption by consumers around the globe, to the point where Toyota has become synonymous with hybrids, selling over one million Priuses to date.

With its coming hybrid as well as EV electric vehicle models, Nissan feels it can finally regain the initiative from Toyota.

“Nissan desperately wants to become synonymous with zero-emissions vehicles,” a Nissan spokesman said.

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