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Nissan returns to the electrification route in Mexico with a Kicks e-Power

Nissan returns to the electrification route in Mexico with the launch of a Kicks e-Power . The arrival of this battery-powered version of the popular SUV occurs after almost eight years of uncovering its Leaf electric model in Mexico.

Since then the Japanese manufacturer had not added any new electric or hybrid model to its offer, until now. “We want to democratize technology,” said José Román, CEO of Nissan in Mexico, during the announcement of the technology’s arrival in September 2021, in a nod to the type of vehicles that would soon arrive on the Mexican market.

The global offer of models equipped with e-Power technology includes Note, Kicks, Sentra and more recently Qashqai, whose new e-Power version was presented in Europe in March. Among all, the Kicks crossover was chosen by the Mexican subsidiary of Nissan to introduce the technology to the Mexican market. “The Kicks is the first vehicle that we are going to bring with e-Power technology,” confirmed Joan Busquets, Vice President of Manufacturing for Nissan in Mexico.

A twist to the strategy

Nissan brought the first electric vehicle to Mexico in June 2014. A couple of months later, the first sale occurred. One of the 23 units that had arrived in the country was delivered to Carlos González. That year, Nissan broke sales records with 291,729 units; however, the Leaf contributed less than 0.08% of the volume.

To promote the sale of its electric model, the Japanese manufacturer invested millions of dollars in the installation of recharging centers and lobbied different instances of Congress for incentives. But the sale of Leaf failed to stand out in the country -in 2021 Nissan sold only 11 units of the model, equivalent to 0.005% of the total volume of the brand, according to data from Inegi- and the Japanese manufacturer has decided to turn its strategy around .

“Our understanding of electrification is now different. We want to allow the customer to decide which option (or level of electrification) is right for their lifestyle. The purchase of an electric vehicle should be a consequence, not an imposition from the manufacturers,” said Ashwani Gupta, Nissan’s director of global operations (COO), during a visit to Mexico in February.

The most viable alternative that the volume brands have found to ride the wave have been the hybrid models, in all their variables, from the ‘softest’ with mild-hybrid engines or the traditional ones (such as Prius), to those that already they could be considered almost electric, except that they use a small combustion engine to generate electrical energy that recharges the vehicle’s battery while it is running. Mazda and Stellantis have opted for mild-hybrids ; Toyota, Hyundai and Kia for the traditional ones, and Nissan will bet on the latest, a technology that the brand has named e-Power.

“In Mexico, we are going to have several technologies available. We are going to maintain the gasoline portfolio, introduce new technologies (hybrids) such as e-Power and maintain electric ones, although in a smaller proportion,” explained Román. Mexico will be the first Latin American country where Nissan will launch e-Power technology.

Kicks e-Power: what is it and how does it work?

Román explained that, unlike a fully electric model, in the e-Power system, the wheels are powered by an electric motor, while the gasoline engine is only used to charge the battery and deliver electricity to the motor.

“It is a pioneering solution for customers who want the driving sensation and efficiency of an electric car, without the need to recharge or connect to electricity,” said Román.

The new Nissan Kicks e-Power features an electric motor, generator and inverter that produce electricity from its 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine. Although there are still no confirmed technical data for Mexico, in other markets such as Indonesia, the e-Power system offers a maximum power of 95 kilowatts (kW) and 260 Nm.

Made in Mexico?

Although Nissan’s first electric vehicles – such as the Leaf and Ariya – are produced in plants in Japan, the manufacturer has begun to open the tap of money in other regions to adapt some of its factories for electric production. Nissan announced in February an investment of 500 million dollars for the transformation of the complex in Canton, Mississippi, United States, to produce new 100% electric models of Nissan and Infiniti (its premium brand) from 2025. “This is the first of several announcements for the Americas region,” Gupta said in February.

Nissan’s three plants in Mexico produce five different models, but most of them correspond to segments that have lost momentum in the United States, the main export market. The sedan segment in North America, especially subcompacts like the Versa, has all but disappeared, as has the citycar segment , where March competes. Models like Sentra and Kicks, which in Mexico generate sales volume for the brand, are rather niche in the United States.

In this context, the key for Nissan’s Mexican plants to remain competitive is in the local market. “Nissan does not see Mexico only as a base to export: 40% of our production is for consumption in the local market, so we incorporate in our vehicles the technology that customers (in Mexico) demand,” said Gupta.

The gasoline version of the Kicks has been produced at Nissan’s Aguascalientes 1 plant since 2016, however the first units of the Kicks e-Power will be imported from another plant. However, the directors do not rule out that in the future the electrified version of Kicks may also be produced in the country.

“This technology can be manufactured anywhere, obviously facilities have to be adapted because obviously it is not the same to manufacture an internal combustion vehicle than an electric one,” says Busquets. “But everything can be”, he concludes.

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