Infiniti will bring its first battery-electric luxury car to market sometime in 2014, the maker confirmed, with the prototype introducing a new charging system that will no longer require an owner to plug it into a wall charger.
In fact, the Infiniti LE will be able to park itself in precisely the right spot over the new induction charging system’s special mat, an executive told TheDetroitBureau.com.
Meanwhile, the maker continues to study whether to add a second, even more sporty battery-car model to its line-up, one that would be based on the well-received Infiniti Emerg-E concept vehicle that made its splashy debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.
Cordless charging has become increasingly popular, especially when used for handheld electric devices such as cellphones – but the Infiniti LE would expand such applications on a grand scale. That’s good news for those who might otherwise forget to plug the vehicle in, discovering they might not have enough range in the morning to run errands or get to work.
“We’re being a little bit bold on this,” declared Infiniti’s U.S. brand boss Ben Poore.
Induction charging systems aren’t without their problems. Just like you need to place a cordless toothbrush on its stand the Infiniti LE will need to be positioned precisely over its charging mat. But to do that a motorist would simply press a button and rely on the self-parking system to figure out the best location. The car will remember that in the future – unless the mat is moved, of course.
Meanwhile, the LE will continue to come with a standard charging port for use when a motorist is away from home. Wireless charging systems have not made an appearance in public charge stations yet – though proponents believe that could change if the technology becomes widespread. One possible advantage is that there’d be no cables and plugs for vandals to damage.
Infiniti has not released specific details about the LE, such as performance or range, nor battery size, so there’s no way to know how long charging will take. The maker has hinted that the LE might be equipped with more powerful batteries than the more mainstream Nissan Leaf. That would allow for more spirited driving or greater range.
According to General Manager Poore, the prototype LE on display at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance over the weekend was “80% to 85% true” to what the production car will look like. Some details, such as the flashy headlamps and grille, are expected to be toned down by the time the battery car reaches showrooms.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is one of the auto industry’s most proactive proponents of electric propulsion. The maker’s Leaf was the battery-electric best-seller in 2011, though sales have slid sharply this year. The maker claims that is the result of limited availability as it launches the vehicle in other markets. The real test will come late this year when production of the Leaf begins on a new line at Nissan’s sprawling assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. The Infiniti LE will follow soon afterwards.
Industry data show that many affluent consumers have been buying battery-based vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, even if they could afford something more expensive. As TheDetroitBureau.com recently reported, the Prius is one of the 10 most popular models in the country’s 10 most affluent zipcodes.
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“I want that second half of the garage,” said Infiniti’s Poore.
The LE show car received a generally positive response for its design but feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for the Emerg-E concept, a project personally overseen by Nissan’s corporate design chief Shiro Nakamura.
There is a push to build a business case, according to Nissan corporate insiders. It will help if a production version can be based on the new MFA platform Infiniti’s future small cars will share with alliance partner Daimler AG.
“Would we love to do that car?” Poore asked rhetorically. “Yes, but it’s not in our plans, now.”
Part of the problem is that Infiniti itself is undergoing some major changes. The maker is gaining significant autonomy from parent Nissan and has just begun moving its headquarters to Hong Kong – in part to expand its presence in China. Infiniti also has a new global CEO, former Audi of America boss Johan de Nysschen. In an interview, he said he is still studying his options before laying down an extensive product plan.
But the focus on China could very well work in the favor of the Emerg-E, as the Chinese government has set very aggressive targets for electric propulsion – which is seen as essential in that country’s bid to reduce its endemic smog problem.
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