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Nissan was the first automaker to put an all-electric model into volume production and, since its 2011 debut, the Leaf hatchback has become the world’s best-selling battery-car.

But with competitors as diverse as General Motors, Tesla and Volkswagen all taking aim at the mainstream battery-electric vehicle market, Nissan can’t rest on its plug-based laurels.

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That’s where the IMs prototype making its debut at the North American International Auto Show comes in. Unlike classic concept cars, the Japanese automaker insists this is more than just a fantasy in chrome.

"We can have all kinds of versions (vehicles) on this platform," said Denis Le Vot, chairman of Nissan North America. "... Our strategy with electric vehicles isn't if it will happen but when it will happen."

Now, don’t expect to see a production version of the IMs to roll into showrooms in the next year or two. What Nissan refers to an “elevated sports sedan” does push the boundaries in a number of ways, starting with its autonomous driving technology.

Le Vot said the electric-car platform used for the IMs concept will not come to market until "beyond 2022," when the current five-year plan is completed.

When you combine self-driving capabilities with an electric drive system you create some significant opportunities to rethink not only the way a vehicle drives but how it is designed from the ground up.

"The new technologies coming, like electrification and autonomy, will give new capacity to designers" to change the traditional look of the automobile," he said.

The Jaguar I-Pace is a case in point. When you move your batteries, motors and other components under the vehicle’s load floor, you create room for a cabin far bigger than what the exterior footprint might suggest. The Nissan IMs goes a significant step further, with its stretched wheelbase allowing for an unusual “2+1+2 seating arrangement.”

When you free the person sitting behind the steering wheel from actually having to drive, the front seats can be pivoted, turning the cabin into a mobile living room. Meanwhile, the rear seat can either offer space for three occupants or, with the outboard wings folded back, turned into what Nissan describes as an “indulgent Premier Seat.”

“Advances in electric vehicle technology and autonomous driving have allowed our designers to break free of the platform and packaging rules that constrain traditional passenger vehicles, to create a completely new type of car,” said Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president for design at Nissan. “The IMs explores the limits of sedan design with an approach that elevates the category in both look and functionality.”

While a number of automakers are imagining future electrified and autonomous vehicles will be targeted at ride-sharing services, such as Waymo One, the Google spin-off, Nissan still believes there will be folks out there who actually like to drive. So, the elevated sports sedan will retain a manual mode.

That makes sense when you consider its electric drive system will punch out 483 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of essentially instant-on torque. And with twin motors, one on each axle, it will offer the electric equivalent of all-wheel drive, as well as torque vectoring, something that can improve handling in tight corners.

With a full 115 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries, meanwhile, the Nissan IMs should be able to deliver up to 380 miles of range, the automaker estimates. That should significantly reduce dreaded “range anxiety,” especially with a built-in fast charging capability. Some of the latest electric vehicles will be able to take up as much as 20 additional miles per minute, recharging nearly as quickly as you can fill up a gas tank.
The Nissan IMs is loaded with advanced safety and high-tech creature comfort technologies. That even includes a method for signaling pedestrians and bicyclists when the vehicle is in autonomous mode.

"It's not only the future of sedans, but the future of EVs," Le Vot said at the Detroit auto show Monday. "It also has VR-technology built in."

How soon might we see some of the features found on the concept come to market? Nissan doesn’t hide the fact that it plans to ramp up its battery-electric lineup to stay on top of the competition, so the answer appears to be “soon.”

 

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