Nissan brand plans to put at least four hybrid models into U.S. showrooms in the next four years as it prepares for what it expects to be the "era of electrification."
Speaking at the New York auto show this afternoon, Andy Palmer, Nissan Motor Co.'s global head of product planning, predicted that as soon as 2020, and certainly by 2025, more than half of the industry's sales will be of vehicles with some form of electrified powertrain. He also unveiled the first of Nissan's wave of such vehicles: the 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid.
He said additional hybrid Nissan-brand vehicles are being considered beyond the first four, separate from other hybrid models being planned by the automaker's Infiniti luxury brand.
A hybrid for every Infiniti
Palmer, who also has responsibility for Infiniti planning, said that every new Infiniti vehicle, except for an upcoming electric sedan, will come with a hybrid powertrain option.
Nissan's new zeal for hybrid vehicles represents a clear challenge to Toyota Motor Corp., which has dominated hybrid powertrains for more than a decade. Toyota's Prius hybrid -- once perceived as a niche product for green-leaning consumers -- now outsells every model in Nissan's U.S. lineup except the Altima.
Palmer emphasized that the new pursuit of hybrids does not mean Nissan is backing away from its high-profile foray into electric vehicles. Nissan has invested $5 billion to create a network of electric vehicle and battery production lines focused primarily on the Leaf EV, sales of which have disappointed the company so far.
"The obvious question is: Are we walking away from electric vehicles? The answer is emphatically no," Palmer told Automotive News. "Our corporate mission is to be the leader in electric vehicles, and we don't have any intention of flinching.
"Irrespective of whether you say our electric vehicles sales are good, bad or indifferent, it has been good for the brand," said Palmer, who is also responsible for worldwide vehicle marketing. "We're profitable on those cars now. And we've got every reason to continue momentum on electric vehicles."
But he said that Nissan's EV strategy from the beginning envisioned no more than a 10 percent global market share for pure electrics.
"That leaves 90 percent of buyers who are still going to want range flexibility, and that will require us to offer a whole range of technologies," he said.
Altima hybrid coming
Palmer confirmed that the brand's best-selling Altima model, which previously offered a hybrid option using a drive system Nissan sourced from Toyota, will return as one of the new hybrid offerings.
But, he said, beginning the wave of Nissan hybrids with the Altima, instead of the Pathfinder, would have been a little too predictable.
"We could've gone first with the Altima, but we wouldn't have gotten the same story," he said.
"We want to show that hybridization works where you wouldn't imagine a car company to start -- with an SUV," he said. "Here we have a vehicle that seats seven and is good for towing, and we are giving it the added attribute of a hybrid system to deliver better fuel economy."
Nissan predicts the 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid will deliver combined city and highway fuel economy of 26 mpg, 5 mpg above the standard gasoline-powered Pathfinder.