Don’t Call it a LEAF: The Infiniti LE Concept and the future of Conspicuously-Consumed EV’s
As they say, “this isn’t your father’s luxury.” Sure, it’s a relentless trope, but “they” are right. The zero-emission, all-electric Infiniti LE Concept a luxury sedan like nothing before it. In decades past, luxury meant two things: size and content. “8 miles of legroom? You bet! Power seats and windows? Holy Toledo, where do I sign?!” Today, those types of features can be found on most mass-produced cars, therefore the very definition of luxury has changed. This is something Infiniti knows all too well. From the innovative Forest Air feature to the around view system, the Japanese automaker has been setting new standards for what upscale car buyers should come to expect. Their latest foray is called the LE Concept, and its taking on the 900-pound-elephant in the room; the luxury hybrid/EV game. I say "elephant in the room” because automakers have been struggling with the concept of a fuel-efficient vehicle that meets the needs of the conspicuous consumer. Fuel efficiency and luxury are not mutually-exclusive, but challenging to combine. Lexus has tried, with the uninspired HS 250h, and the CT 200h hybrids. The CT is a more exciting car, but in order to drive it with any real enjoyment is to negate the fuel savings. The LE Concept is a whole different can of zero-emission worms. It is a fully electric luxury sedan, but before you go off saying “Isn’t it just a really nice LEAF?” Denise Barfuss, Senior Manager at Infiniti’s marketing department, intends on nipping that right in the bud. “The LE concept is very much its own car.” She points out “sure, its zero emissions, but it still embodies the essence of Infiniti.” To that end, the LE Concept is larger than the LEAF. At 186.4 inches in length, it’s about the size of an Infiniti G sedan. Its styling is evocative of the Essence Concept, in a realistic application of that design, and with good reason- the LE is a functional concept, and is fully drivable. The production model, which is claimed to hit showrooms in 2014, will have little changes compared to this concept. That includes the bold styling, which results in an extremely slippery .25 drag coefficient- slightly more aerodynamic than the LEAF. The LE Concept is also more powerful. While the LEAF and LE both use the same lithium-ion and electric motor layout, the LE packs 134 horsepower and 240 lb-ft. of torque. That’s 24 horsepower and 30 more lb-ft. Barfuss has driven the car, and was quite impressed with the added torque. “You almost don’t expect it,” she says “but the power is instant. This is an eco-minded luxury car that does not compromise on agility.” There is no compromise on efficiency either. The lithium-ion battery pack is made up of 192 cells built into the cabin floor. Because of the improved aerodynamics, it manages the same 100-mile range of the LEAF, in spite of the added power. If you want to look at numbers alone, the LEAF and LE may have quite a lot in common, but the experiences of the two cars are far different. One area where the LE Concept stands out is in how it charges- wirelessly. Much like those charging pads you’ve been seeing for cell phones, the LE can park on top of a wireless unit in your driveway and charge in 8-hours. That is the same time as plugging a LEAF or even a Chevy Volt into a basic wall outlet overnight. The location of the charger can be saved with Infiniti’s Intelligent Park Assist. “It uses GPS and the around-view feature to pinpoint the saved location,” describes Barfuss, “Once it is saved, you can let the car self-park directly over the charger.”
Forget product differentiation- this is a total game changer. In a way it actually IS a throwback to the old notion of luxury. Not too long ago, the plebeian’s car had crank windows, and you had to get the luxury model to get the power windows. Today, anyone looking to drive an EV or Plug-In Hybrid must go through the process of taking out the charging unit, and connecting it to an outlet. That is extra moments that you are out in the cold. The next step in the evolution of EV is this wireless technology, and leading-edge technologies are commonly available in a luxury car first.
So it does everything the LEAF does, but better. It boasts quite possibly the biggest breakthrough in the EV convenience equation. How does it stack up with conventionally-powered Infiniti’s? The short answer- very well.
In addition to the normal slew of features, accommodating appointments, and generally refined aura you would expect in an Infiniti, the LE Concept features the impressive Infiniti Connection system. It consists of 24-hour concierge service, as well as navigation and POI search. “Owners can expect all the benefits of zero emissions” describes Barfuss, “in a car that is fun to drive and still fits into their lifestyle.”
The LE Concept comes at an interesting time. Plenty of automakers are attempting, or have attempted, supposedly "green" luxury vehicles. Infiniti has benefited greatly from the foundation laid by the LEAF, so it’s not like they’re starting from scratch. The strong luxury identity of Infiniti means that they will not compromise that identity to eek out a few more MPGEs (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent- the new rating system for EVs). If the LE Concept comes to market with as little changes as Infiniti claims, the Japanese luxury brand will have a best-of-both worlds proposition that could change the way we look at electric vehicles.
See more of the Infiniti LE Concept here
To learn more about the LE Concept check out http://evinsider.infinitiusa. com/blog/