Future Car: 2015 Infiniti LE
Infiniti fields its first pure-electric vehicle to counter upcoming “voltswagons” from rival premium brands. Though based on parent Nissan’s compact Leaf, the LE offers sleeker styling, upscale features and maybe a bit more oomph, but no extra driving range.
What It Is
The 2015 Infiniti LE is a battery-powered premium-compact sedan based on parent Nissan’s front-drive Leaf hatchback, which bowed in the U.S. for 2011. Infiniti previewed its first showroom-bound electric vehicle (EV) at the 2012 New York Auto Show with a “production intent” concept, a term that means the retail version will be virtually identical in most respects. Specifics have yet to be confirmed, however, and Infiniti has said nothing so far about sales targets or pricing.
Nevertheless, various sources believe the LE (which might be renamed) will start sale during calendar 2014 (likely in the first half) with a base sticker price of at least $ 40,000. That would be $ 3,000-$ 5,000 more than a comparable Leaf and would reflect added standard content, as well as Infiniti’s upscale brand positioning.
Pricing will also be affected by where the LE is built. Though that choice has apparently yet to be made, Nissan would probably want to source North American models from its Tennessee facilities, which will soon be building Leafs to replace Japan-built units. Local production gets around pricing pressure from the Yen’s continuing strength against the dollar, and could give the LE a value edge over imported premium-brand rivals, such as planned EV versions of the redesigned Audi A3 and new-to-America Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
Engineering and Powertrain
Judging by the New York concept, the 2015 Infiniti LE will be essentially a Nissan Leaf with fastback-sedan styling instead of a squarish hatchback design, plus a unique interior, upscale trim and equipment, and a more-powerful electric motor. Wheelbase is unchanged at 106.3 inches, but the concept LE stretches 11.4 inches longer than the Leaf and sits 2.5 inches lower, giving it about the same envelope as Infiniti’s midsize G Sedan. Despite those differences, the LE should share the Leaf’s basic internal structure made mostly of conventional steel. Lighter, high-strength steel might be substituted in places to check weight, a critical element of EV engineering that may also prompt more-extensive use of aluminum and plastics throughout the car.
Like the Leaf, the 2015 Infiniti LE uses an EV-typical single-speed gearbox that couples to an electric motor. The motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the cabin floor. Though the concept had the same 24-kWh cell capacity as the Leaf, it carried a stronger motor with a rated 134 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque versus 107 and 207. We’d guess the production LE will have this too. But though the added power may produce slightly quicker acceleration–the Leaf does 0-60 mph in about 10 seconds–it’s unlikely to affect driving range any more than the Infiniti’s marginally slicker styling with a drag coefficient of 0.25 versus 0.29. That means full-charge journeys of 60-100 miles, as with the Leaf, depending on temperature, terrain, and other conditions.
Battery recharging times should be roughly the same as well: some 20 hours from a 110-volt plug, and about 8 hours with a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. The LE will also follow Leaf with a standard or available Level 3 DC quick-charge port that can juice up the battery to 80-percent capacity in about 30 minutes.
But in an interesting new development, Infiniti expects to offer the LE at some point with an integrated wireless (inductive) charging system as a first for a production EV. Designed for home-garage installation, the system does not require connecting cables. Instead, the car is simply parked over a pad that is wired into the main electrical supply like a central air conditioning unit. Activating the system causes a coil embedded in the pad to create a magnetic field that excites electric current in a second coil within the vehicle, thus juicing the battery. No word yet on how much the cable-free charger might cost or when it would be available, but Infiniti claims it can be easily installed and is safe for children and pets. As with most EVs, recharging sessions, wired and wireless, can be pre-scheduled via dashboard controls or a smartphone app to take advantage of cheaper off-peak electric rates.
Predictably, the LE shares the Leaf’s chassis engineering, though some components may be revised for a “premium-class” ride and perhaps sportier handling too. The suspension remains a 4-wheel independent setup comprising coil springs, front struts, a space-saving twist-beam rear axle and an anti-roll bar at each end. Though the Leaf comes only with modest 16-inch wheels, the LE concept rolled on 19-inch rims, and we think those will be optional for the production model in lieu of standard 17s and/or 18s. Of necessity, the LE uses electric power assist for both steering and brakes. As on the Leaf, the brakes are 4-wheel discs with a regeneration function for charging the batteries while driving.
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