It's hard to understand the evolution of things if you only know about their past and their future. At some point in time, there was something that served as a bridge that filled in the gaps, or in other words, something that connected the two ends of the spectrum.
Case in point, the nature of the NBA game did not turn from Wilt Chamberlain's inside scoring to Steph Curry's 3-point shooting overnight as Michael Jordan's mid-range game came in between. When it comes to phones, the 3310 did not evolve into a smartphone right away. Some might remember, the Blackberrys and Nokia N-series of the late 2000s first held the spotlight before today's iPhones, that's why we don't find it hard to use them.
Now the same thing goes for motor vehicles. We've become so accustomed to combustion engines that switching right away to electric vehicles (EV) somewhat becomes a difficult transition phase. That's where Nissan's e-Power technology steps in.
Nissan invited us to experience e-Power technology in a recent drive and these glaring things made us understand why it makes sense.
Not a hybrid, not an EV
There are certain definitions of hybrids and EVs. For hybrids, the internal combustion engine (ICE) and the electric motor could either be working in parallel with one another (hybrid assist) or as a sequence (pure electric motor on idle to low speeds, pure ICE at higher speeds) to power the vehicle like those 48V hybrids. EVs, of course, rely on pure electric motors and batteries alone for their propulsion.
Here's where the Nissan e-Power works quite differently. The ICE only serves as a generator to charge the batteries, which in turn, powers the electric motors that run the vehicle. In the general sense, it's a series hybrid, but we get it that Nissan doesn't want to use that term to set them apart from other manufacturers.
No plug-in option, no range anxiety
Another thing that sets Nissan's ePower technology apart is its self-charging capability. Unlike other hybrids whose battery packs can be recharged by plugging them into an external power source, the e-Power's batteries are charged only by the ICE and through regenerative braking.
This also takes away the dreaded range anxiety on fully-electric vehicles. In places like the Philippines where there are very few EV charging stations, the limited range could prove to be a dealbreaker for customers. But with ePower, you basically have an unlimited all-electric range, but here's the kicker: as long as there's enough fuel to fire up the ICE that will charge the electric motor's batteries.
The engine is only a generator
As mentioned earlier, the ICE plays no part in driving the car's wheels as it only serves as a generator. And yes, there are no driving modes that would make you run the car on pure ICE alone. In fact, the engine is not even connected to a transmission, so it's basically impossible for it to transmit power to the wheels.
What it does is provide the optimum charging load to compensate for the battery energy being put out to the electric motor. So when at full throttle, the engine mimics a conventional combustion-powered vehicle. It increases its revs too, which somewhat gives the sensation that normal EVs could not replicate - the engine sound that indicates you are indeed accelerating and going faster.
How does it drive then?
Honestly, this is my first time driving an electric vehicle, and I've never even driven a hybrid before. So everything was new to me when I experienced Nissan's e-Power technology, but never in a way where I felt lost with the controls. Somehow, it feels very familiar inside. In fact, it drives like a normal crossover, which is a good thing.
There are no fancy sequences you have to do first in order to get going. All it takes is for you to push the start button and follow Khalid's song. Put in drive once you're outside, and you'll be on your way.
Now once you do tinker around with its three drive modes, that's where it gets interesting. In normal mode, the car behaves like what you would expect from a typical combustion-powered crossover, except for the lack of sound. Switch to ECO mode and the system dampens the potential of the electric motors. What it does is activate the Nissan e-Pedal – so what's it all about?
In a nutshell, the e-Pedal lets you drive with the accelerator pedal alone. All the driver needs to do is put pressure on the e-Pedal to accelerate, ease off to reduce speed, and completely release to slow the car down to a creeping pace.
Of course, the brake pedal is there in case you need to abruptly slow down. But when I drove the crossover in a typical non-rush hour Manila traffic, I didn't need to use the brakes at all. In fact, it even slows down smoothly to the right speed when I'm crossing the streets. I found it very convenient that I didn't need to shift my right foot from one pedal to another.
Meanwhile, let's move on to Sport mode. This basically unleashes all of the electric motor's power and amplifies the regenerative braking even further. Simply put, the deceleration in this mode feels like the electric motor is doing engine braking. It would have been great to test this in the twisties of Tagaytay or Tanay, but I'm sure we'll get to do that soon.
As mentioned earlier, the ICE will turn on once you go full throttle, or when the batteries would require charging. If you're not paying too much attention, you won't even feel that the engine has turned on. It's that smooth and seamless. But if you want total silence, just press the EV mode. Provided the battery has enough juice, it's perfect if you wanna be stealthy when you come home late at night.
What are the drawbacks?
As good as Nissan's e-Power technology may be, there will always be drawbacks.
Vehicle ownership in the Philippines is treated as a long-term thing. Most, if not all Filipinos like to hold on to their cars as long as possible. And one of the main aspects that local buyers consider a lot is the running costs, mainly the fuel and maintenance side.
Nissan's e-Power technology basically runs on two systems – the ICE and the electric system, and you have to maintain both. So the ICE's oil still has to be changed in regular intervals, and it needs to be topped up with fuel from time to time, just not as regularly as conventional combustion-powered vehicles.
On the other hand, is the battery pack for the electrical system. Nissan has fully developed their electric system with the all-electric Leaf, and adopted that technology in the e-Power crossover. However, the jury is still out there with regard to how long the batteries will sustain their frequent charging and discharging.
It's been years since we wanted to have Nissan's e-Power technology be offered locally. But like the Avengers: Endgame movie, we all went through a two-year blip because of the pandemic, and that of course could have been one of the reasons why Nissan ePower came very late to the game.
Their unique mode of propulsion makes the system a viable option while the country figures out its electrification plans. Since there are not many EV charging stations in the country yet, Nissan's e-Power technology is advantageous with today's high fuel prices. You fill up less, so the fuel costs don't hurt as much. At the same time, you're basically on your way to transition to fully electric vehicles as you get used to the driving characteristics of ePower.
Like I said at the start, ePower could be the bridge that fills the gap between combustion and full electric power, and a step up for those who have been already using mild hybrids and traditional hybrids.
Now the ball is in Nissan's hands to price its ePower technology competitively. Their main rival, the Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid sells for PHP 1.665-million. If they could somehow place their upcoming crossover at around the PHP 1.2 to 1.4-million range at best, then e-Power could become a strong contender in the market. Or maybe yet, they could even kick the competition away.