Nissan TeRRA Hydrogen Fuel Cell SUV (CONCEPT)

Written By: Brittney B.

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

                                          nissan terra hydrogen fuel cell concept

Nissan is currently in the lead for mass-market electric vehicles, thanks to the Nissan LEAF's stellar sales figures and best-in-class efficiency. However, even as the LEAF's popularity soars among carbon-conscious consumers, the automaker is also busy making huge strides toward another sustainable gasoline alternative: hydrogen. In 2012, sixteen years' worth of research and development culminated in the most ambitious hydrogen-powered prototype to date: the Nissan TeRRA.

Nissan chose to unveil the TeRRA at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, where its then-Vice President explained that it represented a perfect combination of "modern toughness" and "sustainable mobility". As the Japanese manufacturer's first-ever zero-emission SUV, the TeRRA was heavily influenced by two predecessors. The Nissan Juke, a smaller crossover vehicle, inspired its rugged design while the LEAF paved the way for its sustainable powertrain. Its name also suggests a connection to Nissan's conventional SUV, the Xterra. However, as a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), the TeRRA is still brand new territory for the brand.

Challenging the SUV status quo

Traditional SUVs need certain components, including a central transmission tunnel and drive shafts, to maintain the power and torque that distinguish them from cars and crossovers. The TeRRA, however, has a unique four-by-four electric powertrain, which relies on a hydrogen fuel cell stack to power three separate motors. That gave its designers and engineers some extra wiggle room, which they used to expand the cabin and make the whole vehicle lighter and more aerodynamic.

In addition to enabling a cleaner design, the TeRRA's fuel cell powertrain also cleans up the roads by emitting only water. Without exhaust fumes and other gasoline byproducts, alternative materials could be used throughout the vehicle, resulting in a 75 percent reduction of the precious metals needed to produce this particular SUV. It even manages to achieve the best power density in the world, at least at the time of its debut: 2.5 kW/L.

Nissan TeRRA Hydrogen Fuel Cell SUV (Concept)

Distinctive from the inside out

Inside the TeRRA, four staggered, isolated seats offer one-of-a-kind perspectives of both the cabin and the outside world. This diagonal layout is revolutionary for SUVs because it places the driver almost in the center of the vehicle, a position that's associated with more power and foresight. Combine that with a streamlined dash and high belt-line, and you have a vehicle that lets drivers take control of their surroundings in a whole new way — while their passengers enjoy a better view than ever before.

The cabin is also distinguished by plenty of natural wood details that remind drivers of its eco-friendly perks, but it comes with a few decidedly modern features too. One of the most impressive is a touch-screen tablet that displays top performance specs, controls the navigation and entertainment system, and even detaches to keep the driver connected to his or her vehicle at all times.

Teaming up to make fuel cell technology stick

Nissan was always clear about the fact that the TeRRA is just a concept. Like many modern prototypes, it was created to showcase the automaker's advances toward more sustainable technologies, namely fuel cell stacks. However, Nissan knows how important it is to cut emissions on a global scale as fast as possible. That's why they signed an agreement with Daimler AG and Ford Motor Company in January 2013, in an effort to speed up progress toward mass-market fuel cell vehicles.

All three automakers, along with Nissan's French partner Renault, have been working together ever since to develop an efficient fuel cell system they can all use. Their goal is to mass-produce affordable, reliable FCEVs as soon as 2017. Of course, the viability of the fuel cell model is completely dependent on the availability of hydrogen fuel sources and infrastructure. Before the TeRRA inspires a commercially available fuel cell SUV and joins Hyundai, the world has to be ready for a future that includes hydrogen-powered vehicles.