Nissan TeRRA SUV a fuel cell future ride

With the 2012 Paris Motor Show coming up at the end of September, automakers have begun to tease the new vehicles and concepts they’ll be showcasing at the event. 

Nissan is one such company, unveiling a rather fascinating fuel cell SUV concept that would let you go off road, or to the mall, in zero emissions style.

Nissan plans to roll out in Paris on September 27 the rather unique looking TeRRA SUV concept. This idea, according to the Japanese car company, will take “sustainable motoring into exciting new territory” by combining a 4×4 fuel-cell electric powertrain with a self described “athletic exterior.” 

Taking a look at the design though, as you see below, one more likely would envision this vehicle as a suburban ride used to haul around kids to soccer practice and do some grocery shopping or perhaps a Home Depot run.

Regardless of its true use, the TeRRA idea under the hood is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle plain and simple. It sports a fuel cell stack that is highly compact and offers a power density of of 2.5kW/L. No information was offered about what actual range this vehicle would be capable of, but Nissan did mention that the cost of the fuel cell technology in it is just one-sixth of its 2005 predecessor as the need for expensive precious metals has been slashed to one-quarter of the previous level.

The TeRRA shares in common with Nissan’s popular Leaf electric car an electric propulsion system powering the front wheels. The back wheels, meanwhile, provide all wheel power as needed and make use of their own in-wheel electric motors. Given the way they are designed – lacking drive shafts – there is no hump in the cabin floor or on the underbody. 

This allows for a flat cabin deck that, when combined with three passenger seats that can be folded down, offers space for items like bikes, kayaks or build it yourself IKEA furniture (I usually prefer the as-is section myself, so I doubt this vehicle would hold a pre-built desk).

Like other crossover SUVs, the TeRRA idea tries to balance that “let’s go off-roading” idea with the community living driving experience. You get the big tires, high belt-line, thick pillars and thin side windows of the SUV vocabulary, as Nissan calls it, but there’s also a stylish body design that makes it unlike something more boxy like a Jeep.

On the interior Nissan has made the TeRRA a bit luxurious as well as tech heavy, which is not an uncommon thought process when it comes to concepts. The door panel is a mix of blond wood trim and color acrylic, while “ringing the cabin” at shoulder height is a metal frame. The wood/metal thing also continues into the dashboard.

Now being that I love gadgety technology, I particularly like the instrument cluster. It is described by Nissan as an electronic tablet that serves as an “intelligent key.” It is docked when the driver gets into the SUV, offering as default view displays speed and other key performance indicators. What’s displayed can be toggled to other options, such as  entertainment, communications, navigation and other views.

Being that this is a concept, you’ll likely never actually see it hit production. Nissan is drawing fuel cell technology knowledge from it though, being ready to mass produce vehicles using this clean fuel source “whenever hydrogen becomes widely available.” 

This is currently a real issue in places like California, where a recent report suggests more hydrogen fueling infrastructure needs to be built before companies such as Hyundai and Toyota hit planned 2015 deployments of larger numbers of fuel cell vehicles.