Infiniti’s Green Plans Small Electric Hatchback and Larger Hybrids …

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The Nissan Leaf is the first of eight all-electric vehicles expected from Nissan-Renault in the next five years or so. In addition to the Leaf, there’s the Renault Fluence Z.E. an electric version of the stylish Fluence sedan—plus a trio of funky people movers of various sizes (probably headed to Asian markets). But what electric-drive vehicles should we expect from Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand?

UK’s target=blank Top Gear reported a couple of weeks ago that a small electric Infiniti hatchback is slated for 2014. The small Infiniti EV will share the Leaf’s platform but will be more powerful. According to Top Gear . Nissan will produce a next generation battery suitable for the increased power.

Why a hatchback and not a larger high-performance electric vehicle? There are two reasons, according to an Infiniti executive: to attract the biggest market, and because bigger vehicles are too heavy for today’s batteries.

H is for Hybrid…And Horsepower

Consumers looking for a larger model, and more oomph, will need to look to Infiniti’s hybrids. In October 2009, Nissan announced that it will produce a hybrid gas-electric version of its Infiniti M luxury performance sedan, to go on sale in Europe in 2011. It will likely be sold in the United States as well, although no date has been set for North American distribution.

Nissan unveiled the Infiniti M35 Hybrid. its first hybrid, at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show in early March. Nissan’s leadership has repeatedly made the argument that hybrids are not the answer to the environmental challenges facing the automobile industry—and that only pure all-electric cars represent the necessary shift to oil- and emissions-free motoring. Yet, many luxury buyers insist on the same level of space, reliability and horsepower that luxury brands offer—with more mileage on top.

The M35 Hybrid’s engine, borrowed from the conventional M sedan, is a 3.5-liter V6, with the addition of a 68 horsepower electric motor and hybrid drive system. The Infiniti M35 hybrid uses a front-engine rear-wheel-drive approach—with a one motor-two clutch system. The first clutch is installed between the engine and the electric motor.

This clutch allows the full decoupling of the V6 when running in electric modes—in order to reduce mechanical drag and boost the efficiency and performance of the electric motor.

Pricing, MPG and other details are not yet available. The base MSRP for the 2010 conventional M35 is $45,800. The M35 Hybrid should be priced just below $50,000 and will likely qualify for a tax incentive of about $1,000.

Infiniti Essence concept

Infiniti has also been showing the Infiniti Essence Hybrid coupe concept for about a year. The Essence Hybrid, which is unlikely to go into production, is the opposite end of the spectrum from a mass-market practical hatchback. It’s the world’s most powerful hybrid car with a total of 600 horsepower combined output from its V6 twin turbo and electric motor.

When the Essence was unveiled in Geneva in March 2009, UK’s target=blankAutocar reported that all Infinitis will be hybrids within 10 years—we re talking 2020—according to Francois Bancon, the company’s head of advanced product planning. He said that he wants every Infiniti model to be available with a parallel series hybrid powertrain.

When you piece these reports together, you get a glimpse of Infiniti’s electric-drive roadmap: a small all-electric hatchback by 2014—with some of the traits of the upcoming Lexus CT 200h —and a slow rollout of luxury hybrids that offer high performance while minimizing fuel consumption. It s not a coincidence that Infiniti s electric-drive roadmap matches where the overall industry is going: some electric cars and a whole lot of hybrids.

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