Nissan has scored big in recent years with a mixture of practical sedans and sleek SUVs like the Murano. The buzz surrounding the LEAF EV over the past three years has benefitted the Nissan brand but not led to significant sales. The future of Nissan seems tied to the success of fuel-cell vehicles like the TeRRA SUV Concept presented later this month at the Paris Motor Show. Nissan’s research team has developed multiple generations of fuel-cell drive systems over the past 16 years. The TeRRA SUV Concept blends proven SUV design with a few innovative touches that show the future of automotive technology.
The Nissan TeRRA SUV incorporates elements of drive systems already presented in the LEAF EV and PIVO Concept. The front wheels are powered by an electric drive similar to the LEAF system already proven on the market. Nissan installed in-wheel motors for the back wheels showcased in the PIVO Concept a few years ago. This four-wheel drive SUV uses a hydrogen fuel cell stack capable of producing 2.5 kW per liter. The company’s press release indicates that the current stack costs about 85% less than a preceding stack produced in 2005.
Interior design for the TeRRA SUV could create double takes by attendees at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. The driver’s seat is stationed closer to the center of the vehicle than usual with the steering wheel stationed just left of center. Nissan notes that the atypical arrangement of front seats means that passengers in rear seats have better views of the road ahead. The TeRRA SUV maintains substantial cargo space featured in the Murano but offers extended leg room due to drive system design. The vehicle does not require a drive shaft so the rear floor panel can be recessed to increase passenger comfort.
Nissan took advantage of advancements in mobile communications and tablets when designing the TeRRA SUV. A production version of this concept would include a computer tablet that docks into the dashboard. This tablet replaces the traditional instrument panel with the main screen featuring a speedometer, vehicle miles and fuel levels. Drivers can download applications to their tablets that allow for trip planning, wireless Internet access and mobile communications. Nissan also highlights the ability for commuters to access music and satellite radio through the tablet, thus avoiding boredom during daily commutes.
Researchers at Nissan created the company’s first fuel-cell drive system in 1996 when hydrogen power seemed unlikely for cars. An aggressive R&D campaign yielded several generations of vehicle prototypes that took auto shows by storm. Nissan’s latest effort at making fuel-cell vehicles practical shows how far the search for alternative fuels has traveled. The TeRRA SUV Concept possesses the look of a high-end SUV and the eco-friendly credentials of a hybrid. We will not see fuel-cell vehicles like the TeRRA anytime in the near future without a commitment to refueling infrastructure. A major investment in hydrogen refueling stations by automakers and governments would reduce emissions while easing a bottleneck of fuel-cell concepts.