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Geneva 2012: Infiniti Emerg-E concept
Guess who’s unveiling a clever, beautiful and very serious mid-engined sports-car concept at Geneva?
[Long pause] No, you didn’t say Infiniti did you? But here it is, the Infiniti Emerg-E.
And if you’re surprised an Infiniti is so foxy-looking and so mid-engined, there’s more: it was engineered in Britain, and runs a Lotus engine.
Allow us to explain. The car was commissioned in Japan by Nissan, painfully aware that its Infiniti brand has dangerously low awareness in Europe. A mid-engined hybrid supercar is a good way to get people to remember your name.
Especially one that does 0-60 in four seconds, has more than 400bhp of electric urge and weighs only 1600kg. The carbonfibre skin wraps an aluminium-chassis car that’s bigger than a Cayman but smaller than a McLaren. It can do 30 miles on an electric charge, or 300 miles on a tank of fuel with the range-extender engine running.
Continuing the global mash-up theme, Nissan’s studio in San Diego sketched this theme, but it was finished and modelled in the studio in Paddington, London.
So far, so concept-car. But Nissan also wanted the car to be a serious test-bed. So the clever hybrid system was conceived and integrated by Nissan’s European engineering base in Bedfordshire. They in turn went to the British Government’s Technology Strategy Board, who brought in Lotus’s three-cylinder 1.2-litre range extender engine, and high-power electronics, batteries and motors from Brit suppliers too.
The pair of e-motors drive the rear wheels in tandem. Their high power is what gives the car its storming acceleration. But the power of the range extender engine is only 47bhp, so the top speed has to be set to match the sustained engine power. That’s about 130mph.
This low top speed has interesting effects. The car’s design doesn’t have to have all the huge cooling apertures a powerful combustion engine needs, and there’s no need for the trick aero the high-speed running demands. So the car’s skin can be a purer slippier, slinkier shape. Maybe less aggressive than some supercars. Maybe prettier.
Nissan’s Chief Creative Officer (design boss to you and me) is Shiro Nakamura, and he explains how the Emerg-E uses a lot of the design elements of the Infiniti’s three most recent show cars. Although one was a GT, one a hatch and one an off-roader, the elements seem to translate onto this mid-engined form surprisingly well. Look for the ‘double arch’ grille shape, the reverse-curved window-line aft of the door, and the bone line that goes through the bonnet and the doors standing out like a shoulder-blade. And in one of those mad pieces of what-did they-put-in-his-tea designer speak, Nakamura says the air intakes above the rear wheels are ‘like the collar of a kimono’.
This car isn’t just one-off. They prefer the word ‘prototype’. Infiniti is building the static show car, plus two engineered runners. We’ll be having a go in one of those later in the summer.
Why go to so much trouble? Because they are serious about doing a flagship. Infiniti is the posh end of Nissan, but over the next couple of years it’ll be getting less upmarket, by launching smaller cars and four-cylinder engines to add to the current slow-selling V6s and V8. In 2015 there’s a 1-series sized car, based (thanks to that strange global game of industry co-operations) on the same platform as the new Mercedes A-class.
After all that, by about late-2015, the company wants something at the top end. Something like the Emerge-E is very much one of the candidates. Another possibility, by the way, is a luxed-up slightly less hardcore version of the Nissan GTR. But Francois Bancon, Infiniti’s director of advanced product planning, says that’s hard: ‘If you change one singe thing on the GTR, it’s hard to make it feel right at all.’ Though we happen to know that the GT-R’s V6 and transmission would fit in the space of the Emerge-E’s battery, motor and range-extender. Just saying.