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by Tim Beissmann

The Nissan Terra concept has been revealed ahead of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered SUV’s official unveiling at the 2012 Paris motor show on September 27.

Nissan says the Terra concept is evidence it is ready to mass-produce zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicles as soon as hydrogen becomes a readily available fuel source.

The Japanese manufacturer says although the Nissan Terra is a design concept rather than a technical exhibit, its all-wheel drive electric powertrain is fully operational and ready for the real world.

The front wheels are powered by the electric propulsion system currently used by the Nissan Leaf EV, while both rear wheels feature an in-wheel motor to provide all-wheel drive flexibility as needed by the driver.

Based on the prototypes featured in Nissan’s earlier Pivo concepts, the in-wheel motors do away with the need for a drive shaft, facilitating a flat cabin floor and a cleaner underbody.

Under the bonnet sits a compact, flat hydrogen fuel cell stack, which Nissan says boasts a world-leading power density of 2.5kW per litre.

Nissan says the price of its new fuel cell stack is one-sixth of its counterpart from 2005.

Nissan general manager of product strategy and planning Francois Bancon said the Terra concept was designed as a functional and flexible choice for tomorrow’s consumers, combining eco-friendliness with a secure driving experience in all road conditions.

“Our challenge was to take Nissan’s strength in SUVs and crossovers forward into the zero-emissions era, fuel cells being our new frontier in zero-emission mobility,” Bancon said.

“Not big and tough for the desert, the aim was a new approach to SUVs that’s relevant to urban life. The unique diagonal seating layout … offers an exciting driving experience thanks to exceptional visibility that creates a sense of being in control under any conditions.”

Chunky tyres, thick pillars and a high belt-line follow the design theme of Nissan’s SUVs, while the slender waist, sculpted bonnet and wheel arches, short overhangs and intricate lamps contribute to the car’s confident, athletic stance.

The toughness of the exterior is juxtaposed by a warm, inviting interior when the front-hinged front doors and rear-hinged rear doors are opened.

Wood and silver metal surfaces contrast throughout the cabin, creating a unique mix of old and new. The driver’s seat is positioned close to the centre for improved visibility. The only display screen is a removable tablet, which replaces a conventional instrument cluster and integrates all of the usual vehicle information data as well as navigation, infotainment and communication functions.

All three passenger seats fold forwards to create a flat cabin deck, presenting a versatile cargo area capable of carrying bikes, kayaks and other bulky items.

More details on the Nissan Terra concept will be revealed at its Paris unveiling later this month.