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Nissan exec plays up ‘EV-like’ hybrids that don’t need to be plugged in

Ivan Espinosa, Nissan’s global product strategist, wants to strengthen the ailing Nissan brand by “bringing more electrification.” For Espinosa, this means more hybrids alongside EVs. Those hybrids can give drivers a sense of an “EV drive feel,” even though a gas engine is used as the source of power. Meanwhile, according to his interview published today in Automotive News, he believes that EV charging has been a “hassle.” Nissan responded by finding better locations for charging ports and making charging connectors more user-friendly.

When asked about the lessons that Nissan learned from 10 years of selling the Leaf, Espinosa replied:

One of them is the hassle of charging. How easy or complicated this is has a big impact on the EV customer experience. It is not just about time. It is simple things such as location of the charger and even the weight of the cable. We have a lot of female Leaf drivers, and in some cases, the technologies that we use today are not so friendly for them.

We have also learned many things about the battery technology and electric motor technology. All that is helping us to make our EV drive smoother.

The answer for the Nissan strategist is to offer “not only EVs,” which the company will continue to offer, but also hybrid technology that the company calls “e-Power.” In other words, Nissan’s idea is to sell vehicles that provide some of the same driving experience while not requiring a plug.

Nissan’s website describes e-Power with these words next to the image of an internal combustion engine:

e-POWER borrows from the EV technology perfected in the Nissan Leaf, adding a gasoline engine to charge the high-output battery when necessary. This eliminates the need for an external charger while offering the same high output as an EV.

Recently, Nissan also said it would downplay affordable electric cars like the Leaf in favor of higher-priced luxury EVs.

Now Espinosa tells Automotive News that it wants to sell EVs that aren’t EVs:

It allows the customer to experience the complete EV-drive feel without being in an EV.

Woman charging Nissan Leaf

The Nissan executive wants to widely deploy e-Power not only in Europe but globally. Espinosa said that e-Power will allow commuters to “experience EV-like driving” in markets where charging infrastructure is not ready or “where customers don’t have access to electric vehicles.”

He didn’t explain how drivers can have an “EV-like experience” without the ability to plug the car in but absolutely requiring visits to a gas station. Espinosa said:

Effectively it’s a motor-driven car because the combustion engine is only charging the battery. Therefore, the behavior is very close to an electric vehicle. With this, we can get customers to experience what it’s like to drive an EV.

This technology is at the core of what Nissan will deploy in the future. It is not only technology that we are developing for Japan and then exporting. It is a technology that we are developing [for] each market.

Electrek’s Take

A decade ago, Nissan became a pioneer in pure electric technology. It’s sad to see how far the Japanese automaker has fallen from its leadership role in EVs. To use a double-speak term like “e-Power” to describe a no-plug, gas-electric hybrid ­— suggesting that it’s an EV in some way, even if just in terms of driving feel — is bad enough.

But then to say that the ultra-simple and easy task of plugging is a hassle, wherever the charging port might be located, undermines one of the chief benefits of an EV. It’s much easier to charge at home rather than taking trips to the gas station.

To make matters worse — even if in the spirit of saying that Nissan uses customer feedback to improve the EV experience — the executive calls out women as struggling harder with EV charging cables more than men. That’s regrettable.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.