An Early Autumn For A Nissan Leaf Owner In Texas

Imagine you are an environmentally conscious and technologically savvy early adopter of the Nissan Leaf who researched everything you could about the all-electric car since pre-production test mules were being talked about in 2006.

You bought one in good faith, knowing it was EPA-rated at 73 miles range – not a lot, but enough – and Nissan had assured you that the car was engineered to retain no less than 80 percent capacity in five years and 70 percent in 10.

Now imagine you have real reason to doubt whether the car you bought a year ago will have much more than 40-50 miles usable battery range by this winter – little more than your wife’s Chevrolet Volt gets before its gasoline generator kicks in.

This is unfortunately not a fictitious story. It is the actual account of Nathan Drozd, 32, a transportation planner in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who, on his car’s one-year anniversary June 17, lost his first “bar” (out of 12 total) from his charge meter with 20,206 miles on the odometer. This means he has around 85-percent charge holding capacity, which based on Nissan’s statements, he did not expect before a few years or so.

Leaf battery capacity loss

Drozd now adds his name to a list of Leaf owners claiming, in some cases, 30-50 percent charge holding capacity loss for their still relatively new cars.

Being an active member of the MyNissanLEAF.com forum, he knows it’s possible he will lose his second bar by August, as a number of people have reported losing the second bar that quickly.

Note Drozd is in Texas. To date Nissan has not acknowledged anyone more than a “handful” of people in Arizona who have experienced what looks like heat-induced premature battery degradation.

Nathan says he knows of at least five Texans who have lost unacceptable amounts of range, and as an unrecognized minority of Leaf drivers in the Lone Star state, they are hoping along with Arizonans to be “made whole” as Nissan investigates the problem.

Texas and Arizona were among the first roll-out states and also have in common extremely hot summers, and have seen unseasonal heat spells – worse than the other first Leaf states of California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Drozd wonders whether he’ll be hearing of similar Leaf owner issues in other hot states that got the car after Texas and Arizona in Nissan’s staged roll-out, while observing his car’s peak range has noticeably dropped since new.

“I definitely can feel the capacity loss,” says Drozd. “Last year, when the car was new, it took about 4-5 bars of ‘fuel’ to go one way to my work, now its 5-6 (and this is a less hot summer than before here in Texas, and I get to pre-cool this summer since there is a charger at work – this should mean I should use LESS than before if the battery capacity was even),” Drozd says. “Trips to the next suburb used to take 3 bars round trip, maybe 4 if lots of A/C or rain, wind, etc. Last night (it was cool) the trip took 5 bars with no wind.”

Drozd said he took his car to his dealer, and diagnostic tests were run, but somehow the report was lost.

On Tuesday this week Nissan said in an open letter – written by no less than Carla Bailo, senior vice president, Research and Development, Nissan Americas – that Nissan only just learned of such incidents thanks in part to the vocal forum and wished to allay concerns.

Bailo said the problem is isolated to maybe 0.3 percent of the 13,000 Leafs on U.S. roads, and the company reportedly has loaned cars to some Leaf owners in Arizona as it researches the issue.

But Drozd isn’t buying it.

“Where did my report go? And one of the Nissan execs ‘just finding out’ really makes me vexed. Either their inside communication is horrible or they are trying to cover the problem,” Drozd said.

Similarly, some MyNissanLEAF forum commenters have said they find it incredulous, and it smacks of corporate rhetoric, while others urge “patience” and to give Nissan time, and benefit of the doubt.

That the problem is substantial is however in little doubt to Drozd.

Having tracked the issue with the same diligence he says he used in researching the Leaf, Drozd wrote us a 2,000-plus word report noting some “engineering types” have been monitoring the state of charge of their air cooled batteries. Having ruled out other potential causes, he and other Leaf owners say they believe the common denominator seems to be heat, and the problem is more pervasive than Nissan would like to portray.

Nissan Leaf first day - front

As we reported the other day, a local CBS affiliate televised report documented lackluster perceived response from Nissan. It noted repeated allegations of the automaker’s defensive posture of panning alleged SNAFUs as normal, or sweeping issues under the rug at the dealer level for months prior to Nissan beginning to show it really cares.

With this assessment, Drozd concurs.

“I believe they are paying more attention now, but it has only been because of the media,” Drozd says. “People whom called into Nissan or asked dealerships were just told it’s all normal and wouldn’t go further. Although Nissan is doing something right now, they still do not acknowledge loss in other places than Arizona”

But even the media has only gotten so far. Nissan has shared limited details, and some writers are painting an encouraging picture saying Nissan will likely soon resolve issues to everyone’s satisfaction, while known critics are circling like buzzards.

Rather than speculate ourselves, we thought we’d give Nissan the opportunity to explain its position, so we contacted the company and were replied to by Nissan’s Director of Corporate Communications, Travis Parman in Tennessee. He asked us to email questions, so we did with full disclosure. We copied in a number of Drozd’s quotes and included 10 questions that could be answered prior to Nissan engineers’ full analysis of reportedly around a half dozen customer Leafs they are now evaluating.

HybridCars.com questions:

1) Has Nissan documented battery complaints outside of Arizona? (Note Nathan is from Texas.)

2) If so, what other states?

3) How many cases of excessive battery state of charge loss has Nissan documented in total (and how many cars are now being loaned out to Leaf owners?)

4) How does Nissan respond to many peoples’ perceptions that GM was far more forthcoming with its Volt battery fire concerns, not sweeping issues under the rug at the dealer level until media attention and the forums magnified the issues to force it to further show it cared? (As is alleged against Nissan – GM was willing to buy back Volts at the drop of a hat, it seemed, whereas Nissan seems more guarded, it is being said.)

5) Can you respond to this allegation from Nathan: “I believe they are paying more attention now, but it has only been because of the media. People who called into Nissan or asked dealerships were just told it’s all normal and wouldn’t go further. Although Nissan is doing something right now, they still do not acknowledge loss in other places than Arizona and up until a few days ago still claimed it was isolated to 5 cars (the wiki obviously reports a higher number than this). I don’t know if Nissan has communication problems or is sticking their head in the sand.”

6) What is on the table for Nissan to do to “make customers whole?”

7) i.e., will it replace cells if necessary, or whole batteries?

8) Is it on the table to purchase back all affected vehicles (this was one of Nathan’s suggestions as a possible remedy)

9) What about thermal management? It’s been reported Nissan has experimented with this for countries like Dubai. I know it was said U.S. does not need it, but would you change your position?

10) Any further comments you can add would be appreciated.

Nissan’s reply:

“Thanks for your note and heads-up. You are welcome to attribute the response below to me, and I look forward to working with you as we learn more.

We don’t yet have enough information to answer many of your questions. While we are concerned about any individual Leaf owner who has a less-than-stellar customer experience, fortunately, our data shows these cases to be minimal. We hope to share information soon from our investigation of this handful of vehicles.”

The problem with Nissan’s response was it was blank.

There were no responses to attribute to Parman. He not only lacked answers for “many” questions,” he did not answer any.

Thinking this was a mistake, we replied again asking him to please paste in the answers he seemed to have forgotten. Unfortunately, it was not a mistake.

“We don’t yet have enough information to answer many of your questions,” Parman said again. “While we are concerned about any individual Leaf owner who has a less-than-stellar customer experience, fortunately, our data shows these cases to be minimal. We hope to share information soon from our investigation of this handful of vehicles.”

As you’ll note in the questions, we asked about Nissan’s willingness to do damage control as GM did late last year into this with “concerns” over the Chevy Volt’s battery following a federal side-impact crash test that induced fires.

At the time, GM said it would buy back Volts from anyone even just uncomfortable with the Volt while the government and GM collaborated on a solution.

GM also provided loaners to anyone who asked, and basically bent over backwards in an extremely liberal policy in weeks before it announced its solution in January. Chevrolet’s Volt owners are generally enthusiastic about the car, and to help speed acceptance of the car, GM has given them “white glove” treatment from day one, so in a way, this was in keeping of its policy for a car Consumer Reports says is number one in owner satisfaction with a 93-percent approval rating.

“I whole heartily agree that Nissan’s approach is lackluster, especially in comparison to GM’s and the Volt’s non-problem,” said Drozd.

But this is not about GM. We’d tell you more from Nissan, but only have what we have. The company is working on it, and Bailo said in her letter Nissan cares very much, and values its Leaf owners.

But at this point Drozd – and his wife, Lori, do not feel very valued by the company they took a chance in supporting. Lori noted the documentary video “Revenge of the Electric Car” showed Nissan talking about wanting to dominate and own the electric vehicle category like Toyota’s Prius does in the hybrid category. Nissan expressed willingness to give outstanding quality backed with service.

In the beginning, Lori says Nissan was full of enthusiasm and “sterling” but she cannot say this now.

“We love the car and we love the lifestyle. I just wish Nissan had kept up their end of the bargain. Now that we’ve had the car a while and we’re pointing out flaws, they’re ignoring the coveted customers that went out on a limb on a relatively radical product and lifestyle,” she said. “Early adopter Leaf customers aren’t your average consumer. They’re usually educated on the subject, and they’re a little radical themselves. Of course we’re going to holler when we know there’s something wrong. I’m just shocked and disappointed at their overall (lack of) response.”

The Drozd Family's Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt

Quintessential early adopters; Chevy Volt for Lori, and Nissan Leaf for Nathan.

And to be sure, Nissan does not need more image problems now when its sales have been plummeting the past few months. The company nonetheless has said it will sell 20,000 units by the end of the fiscal year, and continues to be bullish.

It has said thermal management is not necessary for the Leaf’s battery in the U.S. although GM decided to use liquid heating and cooling to regulate the temperature of its battery pack.

Nissan’s battery management system utilizes a large percent of the total battery capacity to maximize range, allowing an approximate 21 kwh of usable energy out of the 24-kwh battery size. Nissan’s default is 100-percent charging, but it is recommended to only charge to 80 percent capacity to extend the battery life as well as reducing the amount of time the battery is completely discharged. In comparison, the Chevy Volt allows approximately 10.5 kwh of usable energy from its 16-kwh battery. The smaller usable capacity percent, while reducing the range, allows a larger buffer for the battery that could prevent premature battery degradation. GM has no restriction on partial charging or complete discharge.

It’s speculated a new Nissan battery chemistry could be pending in a couple years or so, and previous reports have said it’s on track for 2015, but Nissan has said it does not answer such questions.

We’ll update you when Nissan has more to say, and for now will leave you with what one Leaf owner and his wife in Texas have to say six years into their experience as early adopters.

Drozd said he would not buy another Leaf again at this point, has doubts whether things will be satisfactorily resolved, and he summarized his feeling below:

All-in-all I am pretty disappointed. Here is an analogy I gave my wife when she asked me how I felt about it: You are a kid and have your favorite sports idol. You watch him in every game, you follow every news article and interview, you know his every stat for his sport off the top of your head, you even buy his jerseys and bobbleheads. You send him letters every month! He is your idol, he his your hero, for years. Now he is making a special appearance at your local mall. You plan the basic mall trip for weeks and are so giddy you can’t even sleep that night. When you finally get to the mall you see your hero unshaved, drunk, stumbling, and shouting obscenities at people waiting to see him. He is belligerent and refuses to sign your favorite poster/card that you brought. Your once perfect, pristine hero picture has been utterly destroyed. You are not angry, sad, upset, you are beyond that … just complete … utter … disappointment. On your way out you toss the poster you brought in the trash and proceed to clean your room out of his stuff you accumulated, never to watch him on TV again or look him up. That’s how I feel … betrayed by my hero.

If you have had battery degradation issues with your Nissan Leaf, particularly in another state than Texas or Arizona, feel free to let us know at info@hybridcars.com. Thank you.

See Also:

Follow-up: Nissan Leaf Owners Hope For The Best, Fear The Worst


  • Van

    This problem, insufficient range in the Leaf, is well known. Lets say it has a 24 KWh battery, but you are not supposed to routinely charge it past 80% nor discharge it below 20%, so you start with an actual 14.4 kwh. So if you get on average 2.8 miles per kwh, your range is about 40 miles. Utterly inadequate.

    What we are seeing, over and over, is that people bought, for about $35,000 this vehicle with inadequate range. They need to replace these first generation batteries with their second generation battery.

    GM’s EV1 documented years ago that a range of less than 70 miles creates range anxiety. On the other hand a day in day out, hot weather or cold range of 120 miles plus will provide a second car for work and local jaunts.

  • Roy_H

    I guess I am split on this. As early adopters, one expects some problems, but you also expect superlative service. Fisker is struggling partly because of re-calls with manufacturing errors in both batteries and some electric motors. But they are doing everything they can to keep their customers happy.

    But as I pointed out on several occasions, Nissan does not warrant the performance of their battery like other manufacturers. They specifically say that degradation will depend on many factors and talk about best case scenarios of 8 to 10 years. The warranty is for “workmanship”, that is an error in assembly etc. Also Nissan stated that all LEAFs returned from lease will be outfitted with new batteries before being sold as used vehicles. This information was all publicly available before any LEAFs were sold.

    So you bought your LEAF knowing it had no battery performance warranty, were given clues that they did not trust it to be even good enough to sell used after 3 years and should have expected to replace the battery at least once in it’s lifetime. Nissan has also stated that the battery degradation curve is that there will be some early initial loss, then a long time of gradual loss, and indeed I have seen this pattern on many battery charts.

    So the good part is that the early loss is not necessarily indicative of the battery becoming useless in a few years, just less range than you expected. Nissan has hinted at much superior chemistry in the works for a future version. When the time comes to replace your battery, you will have significantly more range than to-days LEAFs.

  • Dr. R

    I feel for this owner and am in a very similar situation. We are a Volt and LEAF family as well. Here in Phoenix, our 2011 LEAF lost its first capacity bar after 10-1/2 months and only 10,200 miles. I’m not sure if it’s worse, but my battery report was not lost. Rather, I was told the loss was “normal” and my battery report was perfect.

    Based on some information from an apparently since revised service manual, this is a 15% loss of battery capacity and is unacceptable after such little time when Nissan advertises “on the record” an expected 80% capacity after 5 years.

    I filed a formal complaint with Nissan, but never heard any follow up.

    If the author can contact me me at my posting email address, I’d be happy to share some more information, including documentation that Nissan termed loss of 1-capacity bar is less than a year “normal.”

    If Nissan considers that “normal” the public needs to know the LEAF can lose that much capacity in less than a year and reminded battery capacity is not warranted.

  • Jeff Cobb

    Dr. R – I am unsure how to access your email on a non-account posting, unfortunately.

    You can reach me at info@hybridcars.com. Thank you.

    -Jeff

  • Stoaty

    The Leaf is a stellar performer in mild climates; in places like Arizona and Texas, apparently not so much. I hope Nissan moves quickly to provide more information to prospective customers and a satisfactory resolution for affected owners. Otherwise, I fear that the damage to the Leaf brand will be insurmountable. The slow and inadequate response so far does not bode well, but perhaps they have a surprise in store for us that hopefully will forthcoming soon.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    Well, why is GM the ONLY company out there to “warranty” battery capacity? Toyota does NOT back up its Prius Plugins. Nissan doesn’t do it with Leaf. Mitsubishi and Ford don’t either.

    Here is another observation, all the American designs are “liquid heated/cooled”. That includes Volt, Focus EV and Tesla S. All the Japanese design are either passive or air cooled. MiEV, Leaf and Prius Plugin are all either air cooled or passively cooled. That might work for “mild” temperature of Japan, it won’t cut it here in the US where the weather can be hot. (Even California’s central valley can get extremely hot)…

    I think GM is better prepared than Nissan at this EV market. GM (as badly as it handled EV-1) at least learned about what the essential requirement is for batteries…

  • Herm

    Nissan does warrant the ability of the battery to deliver hp, the internal resistance but not the actual capacity.. its likely once you lose 30-40% of the capacity the internal resistance will fall below spec as well and thus you have a case.

    Both Nissan and GM have given good lease deals, but they never have said they would rebuild lease returns.. some suspect that the good lease deals are a corporate hint (regarding battery life) to consumers but this is just a WAG.

  • simon@syd

    Hyundai do a warranty.

  • simon@syd

    Hyundai do a warranty.

  • JPWhite

    One important difference between the Volt fire debacle and Nissan’s battery heat issues is that GM responded to an alleged safety concern. Loss of battery capacity is not a safety issue unless performance suffers also, and performance is warranted.

    Nissan are not answerable to any Govt agencies in this matter, just to us the consumers. I think this explains the difference in response.

    I still think they are moving too slowly. Toyota moved too slowly even with a safety issue with their acceleration issues and it hurt their brand and sales in a significant way. Nissan should learn from Toyota’s mis-steps and be more proactive.

  • Al Bunzel

    If I was in Mr. Drozd’s situation, I would be claiming warranty.

    Having said that, I would rather have the Nissan Leaf Electric Car than a Nissan Diesel powered vehicle. I’ve been allegedly told by a few Nissan owners with the 2.8 Liter 6 cylinder turbo diesel engines how problematic they are with cylinder heads needing replacement at 125,000 miles.

  • Kurt Hutchison

    I had a similar problem with my 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, at 100,000 miles, exactly when the warranty expired, so did the hybrid battery.

    The cost to replace it eliminated all the cost savings of having bought a hybrid. And if $$ = roughly the energy spent in manufacturing, it negated any green savings too.

    So I switched to one of the new non-hybrid high-mpg cars they are making (40+ mpg hwy) and won’t buy another hybrid or electric until they get the battery problems sorted out.

    Apparently I am not alone. I have read that significant numbers of early hybrid adopters are abandoning hybrids. Once burned, twice shy as they say.

  • Van

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the advantage of a plug-in hybrid should be obvious to all. If the battery degrades, you still are driving a very high miles per gallon hybrid. And their is no need to push the battery beyond its design limits, just run the range extender.

    So far the Volt costs too much, the Prius PHV has too little EV range, so we await the Ford Motor Company and its Fusion Energi and C-Max plug in. Based on this forum, it looks like Ford has hit another home run.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    @Van, why does the Volt cost too much?

    Volt can be leased for $289/month.

    @ $40k, after $7,500 adn $1,500 CA rebates (other states can even be better than that), the price will drop to $31K.

    A Similar equipped C-MAX energi and Prius Plug in cost $33k and $32k respectively. After $5.5k rebates and $4K rebates, those two are $27.5K and $28K. C-MAX energi is similar to Prius with slightly larger battery and still can’t operate in pure EV if you drive it faster than 62mph or “floor” the car…

    So, the Volt is only $3k more expensive. But you can stay in pure EV mode for a long time if you choose.

  • Al Bunzel

    @Kurt, I can see your disappointment. Reading the specs of the 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, it appears to be a mild hybrid which means there was no EV only mode [a mode where you can drive on batteries only]. With no EV only mode, I can see why people are disappointed. With a 10kW (13.4hp) electric motor, it is really weak and only a bit more powerful than a starter motor.

    In my opinion, there is not much benefit in having a micro or mild hybrid as you have extra complexity for not much long term benefit.

    I’d rather have a full hybrid like what Toyota, Lexus and Porsche offers where at least there is a powerful Electric Motor and you can drive in EV mode only for a short distance.
    And if you know how to crack/hack the computers and know which wires to splice into on these full hybrids, there is a chance that you can convert it to a plug in hybrid and if you can add more batteries, you can significantly increase your gas MPG figures. If you don’t want to hack and splice wires, the Chevy Volt (for those fortunate enough to be able to buy them) seems like a good option.

    In summary, not all hybrids are the same and in my opinion, these mild and micro hybrids have damaged the reputation of hybrids if they did not clearly state that they were mild of micro hybrids.
    The 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid is not the same as the Prius and I remember back in 2005, the Honda Civic [mild] hybrid turned me off hybrids because the gasoline engine had to be running when ever the car was driving or accelerating. It is only in recent times (after learning the differences between Full, Micro and Mild Hybrids) have I started getting interested in hybrids, but only FULL hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Just for the record, I still prefer Electric Only cars.

  • Andrew Hime

    Uh, we are *NOT* having an unseasonably warm summer in DFW. If anything, it’s cooler than average – we didn’t hit 100 for the first time until July? Maybe June, but it was 1 day. Normally we’ll have long stretches of 100+ days and no rain. This summer has actually been “nice” by comparison to most of our summers, though still hotter than a regular person would probably like.

  • Jeff Cobb

    Hi Andrew-

    It does not say that you are now experiencing unseasonal heat.

    It says Texas has. These are 2011 model year cars in question, so you can also account for last summer. I know auto repair shops were reporting heat-induced problems in systems such as automatic transmissions in conventional cars, and the heat was exceptional last summer.

    What the article says:

    “Texas and Arizona were among the first roll-out states and also have in common extremely hot summers, and have seen unseasonal heat spells …”

    Just below this Nathan confirms this year it was not as hot:

    “Last year, when the car was new, it took about 4-5 bars of ‘fuel’ to go one way to my work, now its 5-6 (and this is a less hot summer than before here in Texas …

    Thanks for your comment.

    -Jeff

  • Van

    @MMF, The Volt costs about 41,000 and the C-Max 33,500. I do not know what the Fusion Energi will cost but I expect it too will sell for around $33,000.

    For short jaunts, less than 20 miles, the Fords will operate in EV mode, and burn little or no gas.

    I expect, and time will tell, that the Fords, with lower initial cost, higher gas mileage, and significant EV range, will sell better than the Volt.

  • dutchinchicago

    I am so glad I got rid of my Leaf in time. I also researched the car for years. Put up a deposit a more than a year before delivery and was so excited to get it.

    But in the first month I had several trips where after just 50 miles I would get very low battery warnings (single digit temperatures). After just six weeks I sold it at a significant loss.

    I am now a very happy Volt owner and I am feeling really bad about having bad mouthed GM in my Leaf fan boy years.

    GM called it exactly right and their customer support is out of this world. When I am ready to replace my car in five years or so my first call will be my local GM dealer for a new Volt.

  • Anonymous

    Er… I think your’e missing the point. Utterly inadequate for what? If all you need a car for is to pop down to the shops and pick up the kids from school or drive the 5 miles to the station and back each day (like 50% of car owners) then 40 miles is perfectly adequate.

    Mr Drozd says he was happy with the range when he researched, bought and then first used his Leaf. What he is not happy about is the rate at which the battery has degraded, in terms of range, since. This is not what Nissan stated would happen in their blurb and, IMO, Nissan should at least give him a new car.

    The fact that Nissan are dragging their heals over this issue is, to me, unbelievable. They have bet their very existence on the success of the Leaf and failing to deal with what is very clearly a significant design flaw quickly and to all their existing customers’ complete satisfaction is the best way I know for the Leaf, and then Nissan, to fail.

    In any event, Van, your estimation (perhaps it is someone else’s?) that the Leaf can only do 2.8 mpkW is a bit low. If you read the Leaf owners blogs, they are all getting more like 0.28kWh/m (or 3.6mpkWh) which equates to a realistic range of 51 miles some 12 or so more than the average US daily car use. That said if you have to have the A/C on all the time you should be looking at the worst case scenario for range as you would if you were using it in an Alaskan winter.

  • Martin WINLOW

    Er… I think your’e missing the point. Utterly inadequate for what? If all you need a car for is to pop down to the shops and pick up the kids from school or drive the 5 miles to the station and back each day (like 50% of car owners) then 40 miles is perfectly adequate.

    Mr Drozd says he was happy with the range when he researched, bought and then first used his Leaf. What he is not happy about is the rate at which the battery has degraded, in terms of range, since. This is not what Nissan stated would happen in their blurb and, IMO, Nissan should at least give him a new car.

    The fact that Nissan are dragging their heals over this issue is, to me, unbelievable. They have bet their very existence on the success of the Leaf and failing to deal with what is very clearly a significant design flaw quickly and to all their existing customers’ complete satisfaction is the best way I know for the Leaf, and then Nissan, to fail.

    In any event, Van, your estimation (perhaps it is someone else’s?) that the Leaf can only do 2.8 mpkW is a bit low. If you read the Leaf owners blogs, they are all getting more like 0.28kWh/m (or 3.6mpkWh) which equates to a realistic range of 51 miles some 12 or so more than the average US daily car use. That said if you have to have the A/C on all the time you should be looking at the worst case scenario for range as you would if you were using it in an Alaskan winter.

  • Martin WINLOW

    Ooops!

  • Alfubig

    Just lost a bar 2 weeks ago around 14,000 miles. Since I only drive Leaf to work so I did notice that I lost some millage after I saw the missing bar.

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