2012 Infiniti M35 Hybrid   (Source: Nissan Motor Co.)
Company aims to keep costs low and increase fuel economy over Toyota and Honda

Nissan Motor Co. plans to double the mileage (in comparison with gasoline engines) on its most recent mass-market hybrid vehicle, the gasoline-electric Infiniti M sedan (also known as the Nissan Fuga), expected to be released later this year.

While Nissan is a little late in the game with mass-release hybrid vehicles (the previous Nissan Altima Hybrid saw sales largely limited to the handful of states that had adopted California's emissions restrictions), they aim to make up for it by offering a one-motor, two-clutch system that would both keep costs down and deliver better fuel economy unlike Toyota's two-motor "series parallel" system. Nissan's only hybrid model now, the Altima sedan, uses Toyota's system.

The second clutch separates the electric motor from the engine in order to allow users to drive on electric power only with a charged battery. Also, instead of a nickel-metal hydride battery, the Nissan's hybrid system will use a lithium-ion battery to capture and discharge energy faster. The lithium-ion battery prevents the need for a torque converter, unlike hybrids such as the Volkswagen Touareg SUV.

"It was a technical hurdle that most hybrid engineers in the industry believed could not be cleared," said Koichi Hayasaki, chief engineer of Nissan's rear-wheel-drive hybrid system.

The system for the Fuga took approximately six years to develop. The company plans to have fewer components in the vehicle to keep weight down and ultimately keeping the cost down. Nissan's new hybrid is 66 lbs lighter than the Toyota's series parallel system. In addition to tactics like this to keep cost down, the automaker has added more accurate electronic controls allowing the engine to idle, which leads to less fuel consumption as well. According to Hayasaki, the hybrid stopped half the time during city driving while after "millions of miles of testing."

"Typically, carmakers say the fuel economy improvement on their cars using a 'strong' or 'full' hybrid system is roughly 30 percent, while for 'mild' hybrids (like Honda's), it's 15 percent," said Hayasaki. "We're aiming for an improvement of 60 to 90 percent."

Nissan is also giving its gasoline-driven vehicles a facelift as well. The idea is to release fuel-efficient 3- and 4-cylinder gasoline engines and stop-and-start technology sometime this year in order to reduce carbon emissions. The company's first vehicle to use the stop-start technology will be the Nissan March, and its engine will automatically shut down every time the vehicle comes to a brief stop.

Nissan's third generation Infiniti M hybrid is due out in late 2010.  

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