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Infiniti LE, from Concept to EV

Ever since the first hybrid — the spacey, two-seat Honda Insight — arrived in the U.S., most green cars have featured love-it-or-hate-it styling. Some of that has been by design, with the goal of making them instantly recognizable as different from a normal, gas-powered car. Indeed, nothing says hybrid quite like the wedge shape of a Toyota Prius. Nissan has been seeking that same type of recognition in the all-electric arena with its Leaf.
But as green becomes more mainstream, that strategy is starting to change. Recently, several gas-powered cars, including the Ford Focus and Hyundai Sonata, were fitted with alternative powertrains, with more on the way. And automakers that are developing green halo cars are striving to produce designs that are recognizable but not as potentially off-putting. This issue is becoming increasingly important in the burgeoning “sustainable luxury” car segment. One only need look at the Fisker Karma or Tesla Model S to know that expressive, dynamic exterior designs and alternative power can coexist.

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Nissan’s Infiniti brand will be one of the first mainstream manufacturers to produce a unique, all-electric luxury car, the Infiniti LE, which was unveiled in concept form at the 2012 New York auto show. At the time, Infiniti said the LE concept previewed roughly 80-85 percent of what the final car will look like when it hits dealer showrooms in early 2014. Although it’s based on the Nissan Leaf, even a well-trained eye would be hard-pressed to spot any similarities. More important for Infiniti, reaction to the LE’s design has been overwhelmingly positive.
As a member of the Infiniti EV Insiders group assembled to receive early behind-the-scenes access as the Infiniti EV makes its way from concept to showroom, I recently got a look at the LE design process during a roundtable at the Nissan Design America studios in Southern California.


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