Nissan has revealed a substantially revamped version of its BladeGlider concept car, which was first seen at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2013. And unlike its predecessor, the latest edition is fully roadworthy and will be used to ferry VIPs around during the Rio Olympic Games.
The extent of the changes made to the BladeGlider since its first appearance and its road-going capability suggests that Nissan could be preparing to bring a sports EV to market. With sporting manufacturers from Morgan to Porsche preparing battery-electric models for sale, it could make sense for Nissan to bring its own competitor to market to cement its reputation as an EV pioneer.
The BladeGlider features an unusual three-seat layout, much like the interior made famous by the McLaren F1 supercar (and less successfully employed by the short-lived Mia EV). A central driving seat is flanked by two rear passenger places. This layout is echoed in the BladeGlider’s overall shape, which is noticeably narrower at the front than at the back.
The earlier show car BladeGlider featured an even more extreme arrowhead shape and lacked the new prototype’s rollover protection bars.
Like the earlier concept, today’s BladeGlider has a distinctive curved windscreen that wraps smoothly around into the side glass. There is no roof, and dramatic butterfly doors lift up to provide easy access to the cabin. The doors were hinged at the front in the earlier concept but now pivot at the back in the latest BladeGlider prototype.
Inside, the driver is faced with wheel-mounted controls including a digital panel built into the wheel. Another screen provides the instrument cluster, while two further monitors provide rearward views in place of door mirrors, helping to make the BladeGlider sail more cleanly through the air.
Nissan’s enthusiasm for the narrow-nosed, wide-rear format began with the DeltaWing car that it raced at Le Mans in 2012, starting from the Garage 56 slot reserved for experimental cars. The company returned to Le Mans two years later with another Garage 56 car, the hybrid-powered ZEOD RC, which closely resembled a roofed version of the earlier DeltaWing.
Despite their unusual shape, both Garage 56 cars lapped the Le Mans circuit at impressive speed, proving that the triangular format was more stable than it looked. The narrow nose helped to save weight and unlocked a host of aerodynamic efficiencies.
In the road-going BladeGlider prototype, two 130kW drive motors are used, one for each rear wheel. The size of the lithium-ion battery has not been specified, but there is sufficient power to reach 62mph in under five seconds – less than half the time required by a Nissan Leaf.
The BladeGlider should feel agile too. Nissan explained that electrical power is sent to each motor individually, allowing the car’s electronic stability system to exploit a steering technique called torque vectoring. If the car starts to understeer and run wide through a corner, for example, the power can be almost instantly adjusted to send more torque to the outside rear tyre and less to the inside one, helping to bring the car’s nose safely back into line.
The car also has a “drift” mode, where this adjustment facility can be used to swing the car’s tail out wide, delivering an entertaining ride through corners on a track.
Torque vectoring for safety purposes is achieved in more conventional cars by braking the inside wheel, an approach that is both slower to react and less energy efficient than a twin-motor, electric design.
So far Nissan has made two prototypes of the latest BladeGlider, helped by Formula 1 offshoot Williams Advanced Engineering. It’s not yet clear if more will be made and Nissan has not confirmed any plans to bring a delta-shaped sports EV to market.
Nissan is the official vehicle partner of the Rio Olympics, providing about 4,200 cars of various shapes and sizes for ferrying athletes, officials and other VIPs from place to place. Surprisingly, it does not appear to have deployed its Leaf or e-NV200 electric cars in Rio – leaving the BladeGlider to carry the zero-emissions torch at the 2016 Games.
By Lem Bingley