Infiniti LE: luxury’s electric future

Infiniti LE front three-quarterThe small pool of luxury electric vehicles is dominated by upstarts Fisker and Tesla, but now a mainstream manufacturer is bringing a luxury EV to the market. Infiniti, Nissan’s upscale brand, showed an electric car concept at the 2012 New York Auto Show. This concept, called the LE, closely resembles a car that will hit Infiniti showrooms soon.

Nissan was the first company to sell a mass-market EV, the Leaf, but the LE is targeted at a different group of buyers. The company said the LE was designed as a luxury car first, and an EV second. To start, the LE is a fiver-passenger sedan, a much more regal body style than the hatchback Leaf. It also has enough styling cues to tie it to other Infiniti models. The flowing creases along its sides echo the M sedan, while the headlights and grille resemble those of the JX crossover. The grille also lights up, a cool feature that might cause people to confuse the LE with a police car.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was adamant that the LE is “100 percent Infiniti,” and not just because of the styling. He said it was “designed to stimulate, not sedate.” Every car, EV or gasoline, should be engaging to drive, so hopefully Ghosn is right.Infiniti LE rear three-quarter

Ghosn wouldn’t let anyone peak under the hood of this flashy concept car, but it will most likely be based on the Nissan Leaf. With its 24 kWh battery pack, the Nissan can do 0-60 mph in 11 seconds, and go about 79 miles on a charge; Infiniti may tweak the powertrain for more performance. Ghosn said the LE will have a 100-mile range. It will also come with a wireless charging pad (think of it as an oversized Power Mat).

Infiniti wouldn’t divulge the price either, but a Tesla Model S or Fisker Atlantic cost about $60,000 each. The LE is based on existing technology (Nissan has already sold many Leafs), so economies of scale might make it cheaper. The Fisker and Tesla look a lot better than the slightly pugnacious Infiniti, but the LE comes with the security of an established manufacturer. Ghosn said the LE concept is an 85 percent likeness of the production car, so it should be ready for test drives soon. The only question is: will the production version’s grille glow in the dark too?

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