For all its glitz and glamour, this year's New York International Auto Show wasn't exciting me — until I saw the Infiniti LE Concept. Now there's a breathtaking car! The LE is the long-awaited Infiniti version of the all-electric Nissan Leaf, and it will glamorize that utilitarian road warrior.
The LE Concept is coming in two years, with some — but not all — of the Leaf's underpinnings. Chikuya Takada, a Nissan electric car chief product specialist, told me that the car is far more aerodynamic than the Leaf (with a CD of around 0.25, very slippery) and also packs a bigger electric motor, though the battery pack is the same 24 kilowatt-hours. Range is said to be the same 100 miles as the Leaf.
The coolness factor was considerably upped by an all-glass roof, a sculpted plastic grille that looked like Lalique crystal, and plans for wireless charging through a pad on the floor. The car will have automated guidance to ensure that you're parked directly over that pad. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's CEO, said at a show press conference that the car is 85 percent complete, and the show car reflected that.
Ghosn also said at the show that the Leaf "is the top-selling zero-emission vehicle in the history of our industry," which is probably true though we're not talking about there being huge competition here. Nissan has so far sold 11,000 Leafs in the U.S., which definitely gives the company bragging rights, although many critics see the number as a disaster. I say that EVs are starting out slow, but momentum will and is building. Last month, sales of the Chevrolet Volt more than doubled, now that the absurd flap about car fires is over.
American automakers are in a much better position than they'd otherwise be because of going green in their product lines. According to a new report released at the auto show from Ceres (an environmentally friendly investing organization, American automakers will likely enjoy a big 6.3 increase in profit as a result of the federal CAFE standards, which require cars to reach 54.5 mpg by 2025. Without cars like the Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic, and the Ford Fiesta and Focus (as well as the 40-mpg Dodge Dart), Detroit wouldn't be basking in record sales right now. "Automakers who invest in more efficient vehicles are investing wisely," said Carol Lee Rawn, transportation director of Ceres.
Electric is still big news for the auto industry, even if there weren't many actual plug-in introductions. I talked to Eric Adams, a senior editor atMen's Health, who's planning to set off this week in a cross-country trip in a Ford Focus electric. They want to show not only that such a trip is possible, but that there are creative uses of their time during the 40 and 55 times they'll have to stop for two- to four-hour recharges. It might be a good opportunity to take up yoga or read the complete works of Shakespeare.
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