YOKOSUKA, Japan -- The Nissan Altima mid-sized sedan could get a big boost in fuel economy with next year's model change as the brand rolls out an improved continuously variable transmission and its first in-house front-wheel hybrid system for North America.
The upgraded pulley-style transmission alone should lift fuel efficiency by 10 percent over the CVT now used in the Altima and other vehicles, including the Maxima and Rogue.
Meanwhile, the new gasoline-electric drivetrain puts Nissan back in the hybrid race after announcing plans in June to discontinue the Altima Hybrid, the brand's only hybrid offering.
Nissan Motor Co. showed the powertrain developments during a Wednesday test drive and advanced technologies event at the carmaker's Oppama proving grounds south of Tokyo.
The hybrid system, due in 2013, will be Nissan's first in-house hybrid drivetrain for front-wheel-drive cars. It will replace the Toyota-based system, which Nissan had used in the Altima, said Masayuki Yasuoka, a senior manager in Nissan's next generation powertrain group.
Nissan's new gasoline-electric powertrain is based on the hybrid system it developed for the rear-wheel-drive Infiniti M hybrid. It will be a two-clutch, one-motor system combined with a supercharged four-cylinder engine. The Infiniti hybrid system is combined with a V-6 power plant.
The future of Nissan's hybrid program was thrown into doubt in June, when the company said it would stop selling the Altima Hybrid, the brand's only gasoline-electric hybrid model, at the end of the 2011 model year. That model relies on technology supplied by rival Toyota.
Yasuoka declined to comment on what model would get the new hybrid system.
But the Altima is a prime candidate.
Returning to the market with a hybrid version of the popular Altima would allow Nissan to compete directly with hybrid options on rival mid-sized sedans, including the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion. And a more fuel efficient nonhybrid Altima, armed with Nissan's new CVT, will give the nameplate a boost in the fiercely competitive segment.
The base engine of the new hybrid system, a 2.5-liter power plant, is the one used in the current Altima. The new version, however, would be supercharged.
Yasuoka said there is only one other supercharged car in Nissan's lineup, a European version of the Micra small car. Nissan said it opted for supercharging over turbocharging because supercharging strikes a better balance between efficiency and performance without the kick-in lag associated with turbos.
Yasuoka declined to compare the fuel economy of Nissan's new hybrid system with Toyota's. But the company said it achieves power equivalent to a 3.5-liter engine with better mileage. And unlike Toyota's system, Nissan's would use a compact lithium ion battery.
Nissan plans to pair the hybrid's engine and electric motor with its new Xtronic CVT.
That transmission is expected to debut next year on the fifth-generation Altima, said Akito Suzuki, an Nissan engineer who worked on the CVT. Even without a hybrid's electric motor, the new CVT delivers 10 percent better fuel economy than the current generation.
Jatco Ltd., the transmission's supplier, eked out the improvements by reducing internal friction by 40 percent. It also raised the gear coverage ratio to 7.0 from 6.0, and used so-called adaptive shift control technology, which automatically selects the optimal gear ratio for a driver's personal driving habits. It is designed to work with 2.0- to 3.5-liter engines.