Nissan has confirmed it is looking at range-extender hybrid, hydrogen fuel-cell and biofuel powertrain options for its future line-up of light-commercial vehicles, including the Titan large pick-up.
When questioned about possible future LCV powertrains at the Nissan Futures event in Singapore last week, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance global director and Nissan Research Centre general manager Kazuhiro Doi suggested three substitutes for internal combustion engines.
“I think one of the possible solutions is e-Power-type of electrification,” he said. “We can improve the efficiency of the gasoline engine or diesel engine more by supporting the electrified technologies.”
'e-Power' is Nissan's version of a hybrid system that employs an electric motor to drive the wheels while a small-capacity petrol engine and regenerative braking charge its battery pack – similar to the Holden Volt.
This technology is currently available with the Serena people-mover and Note light hatch that are offered overseas, but Nissan has announced it will introduce more 'e-Power models' soon.
“The other is maybe fuel-cell type of technologies,” Mr Doi added. “It is okay to use biofuel or it is okay also to use hydrogen. Because in the case of hydrogen, the issue is the distribution. But if that is fleet use, we can have … a hydrogen station for fleet business use.
“Another issue is the hydrogen tank. In case of the hydrogen tank, we just increase the capacity. And even though we increase the capacity of the hydrogen tank, the weight itself has not changed, it is just carrying the hydrogen. But in the case of the battery, if we double the battery, the weight is going to be doubled. That is the critical difference.”
He also proposed the use of biofuel as a different green option for LCVs, adding that the cost of hydrogen technology is still too high to implement now.
“In the case of biofuel, the availability of energy is much, much easier than hydrogen. Maybe in that sense, it may be more practical. And I believe, technology-wise, both of them (biofuel and hydrogen fuel-cell) are possible.
“The question is how we can commercialise it. To commercialise it, we still need to have a breakthrough about the cost. Not only the technology but also the distribution.”
Specifically, biofuels are developed from liquids that have been extracted from other materials like plant and animal waste.
Nissan lobbed the e-Bio Fuel-Cell Prototype in 2016, which employed a special fuel-cell that was created with solid oxide electrolytes instead of noble metals, allowing the conversion of gaseous hydrogen into electricity to top up a 24kWh battery that motivated an electric motor.
Currently, there are several Nissan LCVs sold globally, including the mid-size Navara and large Titan pick-ups, the NV200/300/400 and fully electric e-NV200 vans, and the NT400 light truck.
Mr Doi said he did not think heavy-duty trucks should be powered by pure-electric powertrains due to their significant weight.
“Electric vehicles cannot cover everything. Usually a heavy-duty truck puts lots of load and the vehicle itself is heavy. I think it is not a good idea to put tonnes of battery on the heavy truck.
“Is that good idea to put more and more heavy stuff on the vehicle? It’s something strange. Also heavy trucks run long mileage. It is better to have some other alternative solutions.”
Nevertheless, Tesla revealed its electrified Semi truck in November last year, providing a claimed driving range of 483 to 805km on a single charge thanks to its four electric motors.
Nissan Motor Asia Pacific regional vice-president of marketing and sales for Asia and Oceania, Vincent Wijnen, confirmed that the company was considering an expansion of its electrified LCV models.
“We are selling a lot of LCVs globally, but it’s very different per region,” he said. “In this region, including Australia, I don’t think it has been necessarily the focus, with the exception of utes or pick-ups. But if you discount that and look at vans or small trucks, compared to other regions we have not really been focusing on it.”
Mr Wijnen added that looking at other offerings and technologies from Nissan’s alliance partners was another possibility.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Because we have the products in our line-up,” he said.
“We are part of an alliance now, so accessibility to assets or complete products or sharing components is much easier when you are that size.
“So I think it is one of the things we need to, we are looking at going forward to make sure. Because it is an opportunity that we are not today necessarily exploiting fully.”
Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Stephen Lester said he was willing to assess electrified LCVs locally – like the aforementioned e-NV200 – but committing to these products would have to be justified economically.
“As I have told the product team numerous times, there is not a product that we should not be considering at least looking at,” he said. “It all comes back to commercial viability, the ability to meet the regulations of the local government for homologation and to bring a product in that meets the safety and performance expectations, and the fit for purpose expectations of Australian consumers.”
Mr Lester added that he had no update on the Titan large pick-up's Australian business case, but said he thought such a model could be a success.
“There is no secret that I think that there is opportunity in Australia for the car. This is one of the largest ute markets in the world. But there are no major players there from a significant volume perspective, and right now anyway I know there has been speculation, but the reality is I think Titan could be a vehicle that, if we can get it here to Australia, then it will work.”