Infiniti Chief Delays Small Luxury EV, Indefinitely

By · January 15, 2014

Infiniti LE

The Infiniti LE is an auto show star no longer. There was no sign of it in Detroit.

This was to have been the year of the Infiniti LE, an upscale version of the Nissan LEAF with wireless charging. Instead, speaking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen, told that the company is kicking the cool-looking car down the road, to somewhere near the end of the decade.

The Infiniti LE, a car show fixture, was conspicuous in its absence from the company’s stand in Detroit this year. In an interview shortly after introducing the performance-oriented Q50 Eau Rouge concept, de Nysschen said the LE is “delayed indefinitely.”

Low Priority

Infiniti, de Nysschen said, “is busy building a brand. We have to rank our priorities. And the LE ranks lower on our list of options, lower in our priorities.” He denied, as has been previously implied by Nissan executives, that delays in the LE program were due to issues with its planned wireless charging, or with efforts to give it greater range.

Infiniti LE

Interior of Infiniti LE, a concept car that is not moving forward.

de Nysschen has offered a laundry list of issues with plug-in cars, including not enough charging infrastructure, weak government support and under-developed battery technology. He's nothing but consistent in his disregard and skepticism about electric cars.

Although de Nysschen declined to confirm it in Detroit, Infiniti is said to be working with wireless partner WiTricity. The company’s resonance charging has the advantage of not requiring precise alignment between the transmitter on the ground and the receiver in the car.

Wireless charging could give the LE some distinction in the electric marketplace, but the car is also banking on the uncertain premise that consumers want a more luxurious LEAF—a car that, when loaded, already has many quasi-luxury features.

As recently as two years ago, Nissan’s strategy was to offer a portfolio of electric cars, including the Nissan LEAF, Infiniti LE luxury car, a small battery-powered delivery van, and a funky urban subcompact mostly aimed at European and Asian markets. Now, it appears, the LEAF will carry almost all the weight of Nissan’s big EV ambitions. Shoppers that might have been waiting for Infiniti to deliver on a small luxury EV this year should be advised to consider the BMW i3 or Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive—or wait for Tesla’s more affordable sedan in 2015 or 2016.

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