TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. is the latest Japanese automaker to equip a vehicle with regenerative braking to power onboard electronics and electrical systems.
The technology, which helps eke out extra mpg, is on the Serena minivan sold in Japan. Nissan, perhaps eager to tap Japan's mania for gasoline-electric vehicles, bills the Serena with regenerative braking as a hybrid, but the minivan is different from the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight.
With Nissan, the electric motor doesn't deliver torque to the wheels to propel the vehicle, as it does with other companies' hybrids. Instead, regenerative braking simply converts kinetic energy into electricity.
That electricity is stored in a supplemental lead-acid battery that powers onboard electrical systems. That relieves the engine of those duties, allowing it to work more efficiently.
The system is combined with stop-start technology and a more powerful starting motor to give the engine a bigger boost when it fires up the cylinders from a standstill.
Nissan says its S-Hybrid system, with the S standing for smart and simple, can improve fuel economy as much as 10 percent at a cost of no more than about $1,910. That compares with a 40 percent fuel economy boost from a full hybrid such as the Prius, at an extra cost of at least $6,370, Nissan estimates.
Nissan declined to say whether it might extend the technology to other vehicles or send it overseas.
Nissan is not alone in pursuing this approach.
Mazda's redesigned Mazda6 sedan, which goes on sale in the United States early next year, gets a similar system it calls i-Eloop. It uses a capacitor to store electricity from regenerative braking, which later powers the engine control system, lights, fuel pump and air conditioning.
Suzuki Motor Corp. will equip its next-generation Wagon R minicar, debuting next month in Japan, with regenerative braking. That system uses a lithium ion battery.