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Diesel engines to power Nissan LCVs – for now

V8 Patrol, diesel Navara to live as Nissan approaches electrification with caution

Nissan logo22 Nov 2018

By JUSTIN HILLIARD in MOROCCO

NISSAN Motor Company has adopted a cautious approach to the electrification of its ladder-frame models, with the strengths of its current V8 petrol and turbo-diesel engines serving as roadblocks to the regulation-led transition.
 
Speaking to Australian journalists at an international light-commercial vehicle drive event in Morocco, Nissan Motor Company frame-based SUVs and pick-ups chief product specialist Pedro de Anda was frank about the powertrain changes in store for body-on-frame models, such as the V8 Patrol upper-large SUV.
 
“Powertrains will have to evolve,” he said. “There’s more emissions regulations, there’s more expectations of fuel economy, even if it’s a V8.
 
“Whether the V8 will disappear, that’s a very, very key question. For the foreseeable future, we still see strong need from the customers, a strong intention to buy V8s, even in the US.”
 
Electrification shapes up as an obvious solution to these two problems, but Mr de Anda warned that the technology was not ready to meet the demands of commercial applications, which are mostly satisfied by diesel engines.
 
“In general terms, in many markets, emissions are getting very stringent,” he said. “Electrification is one way to meet these more stringent regulations.
 
“The challenge with the LCVs is, especially when it comes to replacing the diesel, where the regulations are more challenging, electrification has not been able to match what the diesel can do.
 
“You can get enough or maybe more torque in an electric powertrain than a diesel, but you will not get the range, and if you put enough batteries in to get the range, you will compromise the payload. Still, diesel cannot be replaced.”
 
Despite these key challenges, Mr de Anda indicated that battery-electric light-commercial vehicles were inevitable, with their ongoing development spurred on by future government regulations.
 
“Eventually, in maybe the very long term, electrification will come to all vehicles,” he said.
 
“We have governments in Europe saying they will ban internal-combustion cars by 2040, so if that happens, the only way to be in business in those countries will be electrification.
 
“But, there’s still a technical challenge of electrification to replace commercial-vehicle powertrains.”
 
Rather than progressing straight to battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid powertrains could offer the best of both worlds, according to Mr de Anda.
 
“Plug-in hybrid is a step in between, but even plug-in hybrids have some (challenges), especially with the weight and the payload,” he said.
 
As reported, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation announced earlier this month that its Triton ute may become available as a plug-in hybrid in 2025. Given that it and the Navara should share the same platform by this time (see separate story), the latter could follow in its footsteps. 
 
When asked by GoAuto if battery-electric LCVs will have to wait until solid-state technology become mainstream and significantly extend driving range, Mr de Anda said its expected high cost of ownership may still deter some buyers.
 
“I think we’re all waiting, and not only LCVs, we’re expecting that the batteries will become more dense, more powerful and more competitive in terms of cost,” he said.
 
“As that happens, a lot of segments you will see come with more electrification, but again, there’s this challenge on the performance capability of the electric powertrain.
 
“There’s also the price. In the end, if it’s commercial, it’s a business. The cost of ownership, there’s an equation: customers may be willing to pay a little bit more if they can get that pay back, but if the numbers aren’t (favourable), then it’s not a good alternative.”

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