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The Good Things Nissan’s PR Team Isn’t Telling Us About Its Award Winning Electric AWD System

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In a press release, Nissan announced that the all-wheel-drive and traction control systems in the Nissan Ariya won a prestigious award. But, after earning a spot in Wards’ top ten engines and propulsions systems, the company put out a complete dud of a press release, complete with an almost entirely uninformative video. I’m going to explain why it’s a dud, and then give readers the information that should have been in the release.

What Grinds My Gears Here (Overly Shallow Marketing)

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s start with that video:

From an artistic perspective, it’s a great video. It has decent looking animations of the vehicle’s innards working. It has great photography. It has smiling people with varying skin colors. It has decent music. It looks happy and exciting. But, like many automotive commercials, it has almost no substance whatsoever. Instead of explaining how the system works, it explains what the benefits of the system are.

If you watched it, you will see that they do dive into this a little, but it’s deceptively simple. They explain (in subtitles) that precise motor control, combined with braking and regenerative braking, enhances control of the vehicle. But, that’s something all all-wheel-drive systems with traction control do. Even 2WD systems (front or rear drive only) do what Nissan describes in a more limited way. I’ll get back to this further down.

The text of the press release likewise didn’t explain anything about what makes Nissan’s system better than the competition. It tells us how prestigious the award is, and how it’s decided by experts. It has quotes about how fast and exciting the system is. But, like the video they share, it doesn’t explain how Nissan’s system is better or why the judges chose their system for the top ten.

We see this kind of flowery verbiage and video all over the automotive industry, though. Here’s a good example of this from Aptera a couple years ago:

Instead of taking an opportunity to set the car apart from the competition, they let some artistic type run away with a story about a little girl and space travel. The exciting thing about Aptera is how efficient it is and how many owners in high-sun locales won’t need to charge it very often, but they didn’t even get into those benefits.

Here’s the first compilation of car commercials I could find on YouTube, and it’s from about 20 years ago. You’ll notice that most of the commercials do this same thing, while others briefly talk about the benefits of a vehicle without getting deeper into how they work.

For 30-second car commercials, this make sense because they can’t do deep dives on vehicle technology, and most people wouldn’t make heads or tails of it anyway. But, when they ask the press to cover something they’re doing, they need to keep in mind that we usually use an “inverted pyramid” style of writing, where we cover things superficially for people who don’t want a deep dive, and then go deeper for the readers who want to know the deeper details.

But, when they give out a press release that only shares the superficial, they’re asking automotive writers to just give them free advertising without giving readers real news and education. For a publication like CleanTechnica, the “Tech” part of that is important, so we’d be doing a serious disservice to just pass along an assertion that Nissan’s system is better without a substantive explanation to accompany it.

If we want to actually add value for readers, we need to give you the information needed to make your own decision about Nissan’s e-4orce system, and not just do the old “citation: trust me bruh” thing. However, if Nissan wants advertising, they need to reach out to our ad team.

Let’s Do What Nissan Should Have Done Toward The End Of The Press Release (a Deep Dive For Nerds Like Us)

Instead of giving Nissan a free advertisement, I’m going to go ahead and give readers that deeper information so they can make up their own minds (IOW, real reporting!). By the end, you’ll see that the system is actually pretty cool, so Nissan could have done better with CleanTechnica readers if they had shared this information to begin with instead of making me dig it up.

First, let’s briefly cover how all-wheel-drive with traction control generally works so you can see what the whole industry already does.

When you have one motor that needs to turn two wheels, you have to use gears to share the power. But, if you did a simple axle that a motor directly turns, both wheels would need to go the same speed. When the car is going in a straight line on level ground, that’s totally fine, but if you turn, go over bumps, or do anything else where one wheel needs to go a slightly different speed, the tires would have to slip and screech for that to work.

So, automakers invented differentials to accomplish this smoothly. The spider gears allow the wheels to turn at different speeds, but a simple “open” differential doesn’t perform well if a wheel slips. Over the decades, automakers have come up with different solutions to this problem, like limited slip differentials and locking differentials that keep one wheel from slipping uncontrollably. Here’s a short video on how a clutch pack limited-slip differential works:

There are many other types of systems that limit or eliminate the slip, and you can learn about them in a deeper dive from Weber Auto here.

But, some more recent technological improvements have made it largely unnecessary for street-driven vehicles and even mild off-roaders to have mechanical slip-limiting technology. With computer control of engine power, braking systems (especially anti-lock brakes), and wheel speed sensors, it’s possible for most modern vehicles to use an open differential and basically hit the brake on a wheel that slips. With the brake slowing a slipping wheel down, the power goes to the wheel on the other side, hopefully allowing you to get past the slippery patch in the road.

On top of limiting wheel slip, modern vehicles usually also have stability control, which helps keep the vehicle from going off course due to slippery conditions or extreme driving. Here’s a compilation of several different manufacturers explaining their stability control systems.

As you can see, they all fundamentally do the same thing: hit the brakes on one side or even one wheel to help bring the car back onto the intended path. All manufacturers do this these days, even if there are some differences between these systems.

Now, remember the Nissan video above? Now that you know how these systems work, it should be pretty clear that Nissan hasn’t explained how their e-4orce system differs from what the rest of the industry is doing. The vehicle’s brakes are used individually by the computer to control slip, steer the vehicle back onto track, etc. In an EV with front and rear drive units, the traction control systems and stability systems can lower motor torque in one or both motors to help regain control and/or grip.

Nissan’s “explanation” of the system above was really just a summary of features everyone offers these days, and what differed (pitch control in braking) had no explanation to accompany it.

So, what sets them apart? I had to dig around and eventually found a video from Nissan Philippines on YouTube with a presentation by an engineer explaining their individual approach. For your convenience, I set this video to start at the part that actually explains what Nissan does better:

On top of normal things, like limiting slip and controlling vehicle yaw with the brakes, Nissan uses the electric motors themselves to improve vehicle stability, ride quality, and braking. By strategically using the motor’s ability to accelerate and brake (regen), they’re able to do more things than other EV manufacturers, and do things that just aren’t possible with combustion engines. This is what won them the award.

The video explains how precise motor control can reduce drivetrain vibrations, keep the vehicle from experiencing shock when braking hard (something skilled drivers do on their own), and even help steer the vehicle out of over- and understeer (by redirecting power front and rear to counteract the effect).

For expert and enthusiast drivers, these systems might seem a little intrusive, but that’s a debate that has been going in the automotive industry for decades, going all the way back to the introduction of anti-lock brake systems. But, for people who want the vehicle to assist in the driving and make it better, Nissan’s e-4ORCE seems to be able to do that more than others at present.

See, Nissan? That wasn’t that hard, and it makes you guys look good! Let’s do some better press releases in the future with deeper information to go “below the fold” for more sophisticated readers in the future.

Featured image provided by Nissan.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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