Nissan e-Power: Will this drive the next national car?

Hate to say ‘I told you so’, but whether we like it or not, a new national car is coming. Details remains sketchy, politicians say it won’t be ‘like Proton’ and that only private funds will be utilised (how is that a national car then?). News outlets have reported that ‘a company has written to Nissan and Toyota to seek cooperation’ and that the forward-thinking path is to go electric.

Since Toyota offers fewer fully electrified options compared to Nissan at the present time, I would postulate that the latter could well be the chosen ‘tech provider’ and that the first product to emerge out of the cooperation is likely to be based on the orange car you see here – the Nissan Note e-Power, or at least parts of its technology. Of course, you’ll have to wait for the conclusion of the logo design and naming contests to herald the new brand, just like how we did in the 1980s.

The e-Power drivetrain is designed to be compact and applied to existing models without packaging compromises.
What’s e-Power?

Technically, the Nissan Note e-Power is a series hybrid. If you understand the definition of a hybrid as a vehicle powered by two different sources, typically a combustion engine alongside an electric motor, then an e-Power drivetrain differs in that only the electric motor drives the wheels, with the combustion engine acting purely as a generator to charge up the battery pack, this is unlike parallel hybrids such the Toyota Prius or Honda Jazz Hybrid which are mainly engine-driven and supported by electrics.

In practice, the Note e-Power would respond to the driver like a fully electric car with its maximum output (109hp and 245Nm) available from idle. As the battery charge is consumed, the 1.2-litre naturally aspirated three-cylinder under the hood would then start up automatically and replenish the battery pack. The tech is akin to a range extender (remember the Chevrolet Volt?) but the e-Power lacks the capability to receive charge from an external electrical source. Yup, it has no charging port, so it’s business as usual at the petrol pumps; Petronas, Shell or Petron.

Battery pack of the Note e-Power (right) measures only 1.5kWh and is charged by the combustion engine.

If the technology falls someway short of an Elon Musk science project, it must be noted that Nissan’s e-Power was designed to be affordable and to be applied to existing models and platforms without impinging on vehicle packaging. Hence, you’ll only find a modestly size 1.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack tucked under the front seats compared to the first-generation Leaf’s 24kWh battery capacity. The expectation is that the engine will fire up rather frequently to top up the batteries.

In fact, Nissan doesn’t even quote an electric range but claims a fuel efficiency of up to 37km/l which is competitive against top performing parallel hybrids based on Japan’s mild JC08 domestic test cycle. If you need to know, the Note e-Power’s fuel tank size measures 35 litres (41 litre for the regular Note) and kerb weight is around 1200kgs, or about 150kg more than the regular petrol version.

Will it work for us?

Without any targets and objectives laid out, it’s difficult to judge whether Nissan’s e-Power technology is what the new national car project needs. What we do know is that the Note e-Power is currently the best-selling car (outside of tiny Kei cars) in Japan, even beating parallel hybrid rivals such as the Vitz/Aqua/Prius and Fit/Jazz from Toyota and Honda which had dominated previously. Clearly, e-Power has worked for Japanese car buyers who appreciate EV driving characteristics, but whether it’ll be appreciated in the harsher driving environments of Malaysia or ASEAN remains to be seen.

The Nissan Note e-Power is outselling other hybrids in Japan, can this work in Malaysia and ASEAN?