Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn always looks like he’s smirking, but with Infiniti delaying a second critical product in a week’s time, we’re sure he’s frowning hard. On Wednesday, Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer told The Wall Street Journal that the company would “push back the timing” of its Infiniti LE, a luxury electric car based on the Nissan Leaf that was scheduled to go on sale by next spring. A week earlier, Infiniti delayed the launch of its new 2014 Q50 by another month to make engineering tweaks. The LE, first shown at the 2012 New York auto show, may need much more time, although Palmer didn’t specify a ballpark date.
“Certain technologies that we see now, which we didn’t see two years ago, are going to be available in a time frame that was relatively close to where we were going to introduce the Infiniti,” Palmer told the Journal. Our attempts to reach Nissan went unanswered.
An outspoken advocate for electric cars, Ghosn made Nissan the first major automaker to sell a mass-produced EV since the GM EV1. His insistence on pure electric power using an entirely new platform—as opposed to developing EVs and plug-in hybrids from existing models, as Ford has done—means the company needs to sell more EV variants to recoup costs. The Infiniti LE, along with the e-NV200 commercial van, is essential to that plan. But with plug-ins accounting for a half-percent of all market share, no one is betting Nissan—which built a new battery plant in Smyrna, Tennesse, using $1.4 billion in federal loans—will be generating EV profits any time soon. Nor will any automaker, for that matter.
Likely, those “certain technologies” Palmer refers to involve the SAE fast-charging combo plug, which the company (along with Mitsubishi) continues to oppose despite approval from eight other U.S. and European automakers. Nissan has supported the Japanese CHAdeMO standard for the Leaf, which requires a separate connection as opposed to the SAE’s all-in-one design.
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Nissan also may be considering liquid cooling for its lithium-ion battery pack, another feature the company has strongly resisted to cut costs. In September of last year, dozens of Leaf owners in Phoenix told Nissan that the area’s desert heat had prematurely cut their range, with some owners reportedly losing up to 30 percent of battery capacity in less than two years. In April, Nissan responded with a new battery warranty that would offer replacements, although Palmer said at the time that the Leaf’s air-cooled pack did not require further improvements.
Or, Nissan engineers simply could be too busy. They’re preparing a hybrid powertrain for the next-gen GT-R, a car we’d gladly take first over the LE.
In any case, Infiniti’s delay is good news for General Motors, which would prefer its upcoming 2014 Cadillac ELR to have all the electric attention.