GENEVA 2012: INFINITI EMERG-E
Infiniti's first-ever range-extender and first-ever mid-engined car. But is it more than just a concept?
So far so predictable; aspiring premium carmaker creates look-at-me sporty concept and sprinkles on green technology in an attempt to raise profile. How many times have we seen that?
It's also a thoroughly European - in fact quite heavily British - affair. One of Infiniti's challenges is to change the perception that Infiniti is a US-centric brand, and the gestation of the Emerg-E certainly manages that. Nissan (and by extension Infiniti) is of course a global company and that is reflected in the fact that it has bases in many countries, but the Emerg-E is the first Infiniti to be designed in Europe.
We'll get to the nitty-gritty engineering bits in a bit, but it's worth taking a moment to ponder the shape of the Emerg-E: "Infiniti has always had rear-wheel-drive styling," says Nakamura. "The FX is a good example - it has a long bonnet, short rear deck, and is not wedged. But a mid-ship layout usually has a different attitude - it's slightly wedged, so that's a challenge for us."
The design process started with the creation of three-quarter scale model proposals from Infiniti studios in Japan, the UK and California. The winning design, the work of California-based Infiniti designer Randy Rodriguez, was recreated as a full-size clay model constructed at NDE in Paddington.
The aim has been to combine the brand's characteristic long nose with the heavier volume at the rear, while maintaining what Nakamura calls 'the emotional flow of an Infiniti.'
To fill those clothes, and to fulfil the brief to create a range-extender electric sports car with 400hp, a 130mph top speed, a 0-60mph time of 4.0 seconds and a range of 300 miles, Infiniti has drawn on a wealth of British engineering and supply firms.
Thus as well as the work put in by NTCE in Cranfield, the single-speed transmission comes from Berkshire-based Xtrac, the two 201hp electric motors from EVO Electric in Woking, the carbon fibre body panels have been created with the help of Lola composites in Huntingdon and the aero work is courtesy of the Mira wind tunnel in Warwickshire. Oh, and let's not forget the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder Lotus range-extender engine. And we probably don't need to say where that's from...
This makes sense for a low-volume sports car, because there's plenty of flexibility in the platform. It's much easier to build than a full steel monocoque body too, with less tooling required, so much like Lotus and Aston Martin's flexible platforms it's possible to build whatever dimensions you need into the chassis.
There are differences between the forthcoming prototype and the concept, though. There's the mirrors (clever camera jobs in the show car), a slight height difference, and a fixed spoiler at the rear (of the prototype). "If you put the two cars side by side (prototype and show concept) you'd see the difference," says Jerry, "but show somebody two photos of the show car and our prototypes and you'd struggle to tell them apart".
This isn't a production-ready concept at the moment, but think of it as Nissan and Infiniti's pitch to make the UK and Europe a bigger part of the company's engineering future and you won't be far wrong. So is it Infiniti's chance to take on the high-end sports car establishment? Probably not just yet; Infiniti's got a little way to go before it's knocking on the door of the likes of Porsche. There's no doubting the scope of its dreams, though. It will be interesting to see if the show car glitz can be backed up by engineering grit when Infiniti gets around to showing off the running prototypes. We suspect it might just do that.