Hybrid Powertrain For Next-Gen R36 GT-R: Progress Or Problem?

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Article by Rick Jensen (Turboguy). Images individually credited.

Specs: 784 horsepower. 737 pound-feet of torque. Twin-turbo V-6. Dual-clutch, 8-speed transmission. These are just a few of the tantalizing tidbits circulating about the next-generation GT-R. And while they’re just educated guesses gleaned from industry sources at this point, all signs point to a major Godzilla upgrade. And get this: the R36 might even have a completely revolutionary hybrid powertrain.

Spurred on by Formula One’s kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), hybrid gasoline/electric powertrains have moved way beyond pathetic, low-powered Priuses. In fact, many of the world’s fastest hypercars rely on hybrid powertrains to make their otherworldly power. Ferrari’s 950-hp LaFerrari makes 161 of those horses via electric motor. McLaren’s 903-hp P1 makes an even bigger 177 electric horsepower. And Porsche’s 887-hp 918 benefits from more electric horsepower—279 horses from two electric motors—than a WRX’s total output!

But today’s high-end hybrid systems do more than just add power, they add "torque fill” at low engine speeds and help with launches and throttle response, save fuel and allow electric-only driving, regenerate their own power and assist in faster transmission shifting, and even lower emissions.

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Each system includes a battery pack, an electric motor, regeneration equipment and the necessary electrical lines. The electric motors connect to the powertrain to provide additional horsepower to the rear (or front and rear) wheels. The battery packs are normally lithium ion—some are recharged by braking, but more sophisticated systems use the electric motor(s) as a generator to recharge the battery pack, which leaves the brake pedal feel intact.

But however amazing these hybrid powertrains are, they have their downsides. We’ll discuss the inherent problems Nissan faces with developing, testing and selling a hybrid GT-R. But just as important, we’ll discuss how a high-tech, next-gen GT-R could affect you the buyer, as well as the performance shops that you depend on for maintenance and modifications.

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R36 GT-R’s hybrid powertrain: based on Formula One, or endurance racing designs?

As it’s still early in development, that’s still up in the air for now. There’s been talk about F1 veteran Williams co-developing a hybrid system with NISMO—it could be a great option regarding cost and complexity, but the issue might be reliability. Both the LaFerrari system and the P1 system are distilled from F1 racecars.
Nissan has an F1 connection as well, as it owns Infiniti, which sponsors Red Bull’s KERS-assisted F1 cars. And, Nissan will be campaigning a hybrid GT-R racer at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The data on the F1 and endurance hybrid systems’ operation, reliability and performance would be very informative when translated to a street car-based design. But considering that F1-spec hybrid systems are both heavy and expensive, it’s a good bet that an R36’s hybrid system will be based on the Le Mans racer’s setup.

The main enemies of a street hybrid powertrain: complexity and cost

Thanks to Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren, many enthusiasts would welcome a hybrid system on the next GT-R. But remember, hybrid systems are very new technologies, and in a mass-production situation, they’ll be very expensive to design and maintain.

Any electronic component on the bleeding edge of progress has teething problems—especially since Nissan would probably have to create its own separate road hybrid system off of a race design, since race systems are both very expensive and heavy.

Also, the current GT-R’s twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-6 is pretty reliable and fairly easy to maintain. That all changes if the powertrain becomes gas/electric hybrid, with a high-dollar, big power-capable, dual-clutch trans. It will be an extremely complicated system, with both the gasoline and the electric systems depending on each other. And that means a very steep learning curve for dealership/shop techs to properly maintain them.

Combine that with our instant gratification mentality—consumers demand that expensive computers and smartphones work perfectly, yet they rarely do. So potential buyers must be willing to spend $100,000-plus on a rolling computer system that could use seven kilowatt hours or more of energy, seamlessly couple and decouple with a turbocharged powertrain, live through massive NVH and blistering heat and work at 200 mph speeds reliably. It’s a very tall order.

R36 Weight

The current R35 GT-R is many things, but light is not one of them. And for all of a hybrid system’s additional benefits, they add a ton of weight. Now, the current GT-R is a road-course favorite; it turns everyday drivers into track heroes despite a slightly porky curb weight. That’s a strong selling point for a still-agile car. But how much more weight can be added to the R36 before it’s relegated into a straight-line speedster, a la Veyron?

R36 GT-R price and competition

Unfortunately, the cost issue is a three-headed snake. Current GT-R shoppers/owners compare it with mere mortal Porsches and Corvettes; neither the Stingray/Z06 nor the 911 lineup have gone to hybrids, with cost surely being a serious factor. So how do you make it cost-effective and reliable? No one knows yet.

So if the R36 gets a hybrid powertrain, expect a significant dealership price hike over 2015’s $100K base price. And that means that the GT-R will take big money to buy, and to service. To some, that will eliminate it from consideration as a new performance car.

Affect on performance shops and the aftermarket

Upgrading powertrain components on R35 GT-Rs already costs a pretty penny (yes, the GT-R tax is real). But we just covered a scenario where new GT-R owners might not be able to afford the R36—let alone modify it. And even if they can afford it, will non-OEM shops even be able to modify or work on them in the first place?

Word is the next GT-R will get a dramatic redesign—enthusiasts are hoping for something as close to the low, wide Nissan Concept 2020 Vision GT as possible. If the new hybrid GT-R is to look anything like this stunning concept car, Nissan will have to package a massive hybrid system in the confines of a small, sexy car. What could go wrong?

Well, enormous lithium-ion battery packs take up a bunch of space. For example, in the McLaren P1 the batteries sit directly behind the driver—they’re tall and nearly as wide as the car itself. Add in the motor and all ancillary parts, and consider other factors like cooling (it’s said that Nissan is already having cooling problems with R&D battery packs), and packaging gets real complicated, real fast. We forsee lots of components hidden in hard-to-reach places; everyone knows about that one car that you have to drop the engine and subframe down to change spark plugs… this could be much, much worse.

And even if shops can modify and upgrade a GT-R’s hybrid powertrain, how much will dedicated hybrid tools and diagnostic systems cost? Many shops would be priced out of the market. Hate to sound flippant here, but the old adage about giving your left … for something? Hopefully that won’t happen with the R36, but it could!

In conclusion

Hybrid powertrains help create a next-level driving experience. But where non-hypercars like the R36 GT-R are concerned, Nissan’s greatest challenge is to recreate the benefits of a reliable LaFerrari/P1/918 hybrid system, at a cheaper price and in a tighter package.

Nissan created a technological tour de force with the R35 GT-R. Soon, we’ll know if they can take the next big step forward.


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Rick Jensen (Turboguy)

Rick's a Turbo Buick and EFI GM nut who was born in Nebraska, then reborn on the mean streets of Queens, NYC. Spent high school and college wrenching and racing before moving to NYC and spending 13 years as the editor-in-chief, editor, and writer for some of America's best automotive magazines, websites, and ad agencies. Favorite moments include running low 10s in my Turbo Buick, Exposing GM's weak-assed early CTS-V drivetrains, road racing Corvettes and Camaros, and doing high-boost launches to make my kid laugh.
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Write a CommentCOMMENTS
Jeffrey Marquis11/4/2014

YOU FUCKED UP A SENTENCE !!!!!!! And Porsche’s 887-hp 918 benefits from more electric horsepower—279 horses from two electric motors—than a WRX’s total output! ~~~~~ SHOULD ME """MORE""