Naoki Nakada is definitely a car lover. As one of Nissan’s chief powertrain engineers, he’s been in charge of developing some of the brand’s most iconic engines, including the revered VR38DETT engine which provides the muscle and pin-to-your-seat acceleration of the R35 GT-R.
However, it’s not just the roar of combustion engines at a wide-open throttle that has fascinated Nakada. He also developed the quiet, mild-mannered powertrain for Nissan’s all-electric LEAF, the world’s first mass-market 100% electric vehicle. Having worked on both ends of the spectrum, his next project was to combine the best of both powertrains – the speed and power of a sports car and the torque-on-demand nature of an EV – welcoming Nissan’s e-POWER technology.
For fans of high-performance cars, the Nissan GT-R has always had legendary status, thanks to its athletic handling and exceptional speed.
“When we were developing the R35 GT-R, we were not just pursuing speed, but also that satisfying acceleration feeling,” said Nakada “For GT-R drivers, there’s little that compares to the amazing feeling of putting it through its paces.”
After developing the all-electric powertrain for the Nissan LEAF, however, he was determined to bring his GT-R experience to the next generation of electrified vehicles.
“If we want to create a carbon-neutral society, we have to promote electric vehicles,” stated Nakada “An electric vehicle from Nissan should not only be environmentally friendly but also be fun and exciting to drive.”
A powertrain that takes the hurdles of e-mobility
The transition from traditional to fully electric mobility, however, won’t happen overnight. Some have hesitations toward EV ownership, such as driving range on a single charge, local and regional charging infrastructure, and cost. Realizing this, Nakada set out to ease customer concerns by developing an electrified powertrain that combines the thrilling performance of an electric motor with the ease of owning a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle offers. This is the origin of Nissan’s e-POWER technology.
Fuel efficiency built-in
Nissan e-POWER is different from typical hybrid systems as it simplifies the e-powertrain operation by having the high output electric motor solely provide power to the wheels. The lithium-ion battery powering the electric motor is recharged by a highly-efficient, on-board combustion engine acting as a power generator. For drivers, e-POWER offers a seamless and powerful acceleration experience similar to an EV, without the concern of a charging station. Instead, a visit to a gas station is all that’s needed to refuel. This makes electric mobility available to many more drivers than ever before.
Fuel efficiency is also at the core of Nissan’s e-POWER system with the engine operating at an optimized speed to recharge the battery. The engine is primarily activated at high cruising speeds or over the rough road when the sound of the engine can be masked by road noise. This ensures the driving experience is quite like an EV in most driving scenes like a run-around town.
“e-POWER looks like a simple system that’s easy to develop. In fact, it’s quite the opposite,” explains Nakada. “You have to get the balance right between electricity use and power generation, ensure the perfect timing for when the gasoline engine operates, and match the battery capacity to the type of car. A lot of development work went into perfecting the customer experience.”
Introducing e-POWER technology to the world
Nissan launched e-POWER in the Note for the Japan market in 2016 with a Serena e-POWER model following soon after. The success of e-POWER vehicles hasn’t stopped climbing and sales in Japan are now approaching 500,000 units; the Note claimed Japan’s best-selling car of 2018*. 2020 saw the introduction of the Kicks e-POWER crossover vehicle in Japan and in some Asian markets, expanding the availability of e-POWER technology.
*Note sales include standard Note and Note e-POWER, with the e-POWER model representing approximately 70% of sales.
With e-POWER expanding to other markets, Nakada is determined to continue with his research and development work to ensure the powertrain is optimized for the driving habits and traffic conditions of each region:
“We want to offer e-POWER to as many people as possible, as soon as possible. With e-POWER, we are giving them the full-electric driving experience, which can in turn help accelerate toward a carbon-neutral, electrified mobility world.
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