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Infiniti ‘Leaf’ not in plan

Over and out: Infiniti scrapped plans to produce the LE concept but the company is still planning electric vehicles in the future.

A successor to stillborn Infiniti LE EV based on 2019 Leaf considered but abandoned

27 Sep 2017


INFINITI has confirmed that it will not market an electric vehicle based on the next-generation Nissan Leaf that premiered earlier this month in Japan, despite the improvements in quality, range, comfort and technology that the latest version offers.

According to Infiniti vice-president of product strategy Francois Bancon, while it is still possible to do so, the latest Leaf would still fall short of the dynamic and performance expectations of a vehicle wearing Nissan’s luxury brand’s logo.

“It can be an option, but we need more than this and I’m not sure that it is the right way,” he admitted to GoAuto at Infiniti’s Hong Kong headquarters last week.

“I’m not denying the new Leaf anything, because it has a lot of great qualities, especially in terms of autonomy, but not so much on performance. The car looks a little bit more premium and exciting than before so why not? Nissan is doing this which is fine and a good direction for them, but we need more.”

Mr Bancon revealed that the EV market has changed since Infiniti first mooted – and later rejected – a bespoke-bodied vehicle based on the original Leaf back at the beginning of this decade.

Known as the LE, it was to be a China and US-focused four-door with an all-electric powertrain taken directly from the donor Nissan, until company management feared that it might not be ‘premium’ enough.

Instead, Infiniti is promising to break new ground in the luxury EV stakes, but what exactly that will be when the final product is shown sometime before the end of this decade is not yet known.

“We can go after Tesla,” Mr Bancon began to explain. “Mercedes is doing that with the EQ, BMW with ‘i’ etcetera. Or you can propose something that can shake up the market, which is in the Infiniti DNA. We want to do something bigger than (Leaf).

“It’s clear that – whether it is high intensity or low intensity – we are going to electrify. And not just because of regulations. I think an electrified powertrain fits very well in the sense of what Infiniti is all about – if we do it right.

“An example of this is F1, it used to be V8, V10, twin-turbo, brutal power… and then it shifted to hybrid, and it works. And we are not very different to F1.

That is why we made the deal as a partner and not just as a sponsor with Renault F1 we have a full-time engineer in the team to develop the hybrid system for F1, and this is also the direction we want to investigate.” Mr Bancon also revealed that the idea of the Infiniti LE came about due to a special set of circumstances relating to legislation that evolved and forced the car-maker to rethink its strategy.

“The idea at the time behind this tactical approach (of rebranding the Nissan Leaf as an Infiniti) was based on (proposed) vehicle regulation in China stating five million EVs by 2020 (now changed to 2022),” he said. “Plus, we had the California EV mandate… and we didn’t want to give up on our portfolio at that time that was based on the V6 powertrain.

“So, we had the Leaf already, and though we were not in love with the car itself, we asked ‘what can we do with this to shorten the development and minimise (costs)?’, so we developed a kind of new upper body on the Leaf.

“But then the regulation became a little bit more flexible, and to be honest we were not super happy with this tactical approach, so we said ‘if we are not forced to do this let’s take the time to do it well’ and so we stopped this development and refocused on a different approach on the EV and electrified powertrain.

“Using the Leaf as it was before, I said very rapidly at the time that it would not have given us the leadership (in the burgeoning luxury EV market), and especially considering what others are doing like Tesla. Tesla didn’t even exist when we were looking at the LE.

“We have to be realistic. If it wasn’t going to give us leadership and fit with the brand then why were we doing this? To make money with EVs is not an easy thing to do in this industry so we’re taking the time to do it well.”

First shown at the 2012 New York motor show, the Infiniti LE (for Luxury first, Electric second) was to be marketed from 2014.

At the time, Infiniti said it was to be powered by a 100kW/325Nm electric motor, rather than the contemporary Leaf’s 80kW/285Nm unit. Employing a 24kWh battery like the Nissan, the LE was to also debut an inductive charging method to help differentiate it from more proletarian EVs.

However, the car was put on hold until the company announced that LE development stopped two years ago.

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