Nissan Agrees to Leaf Battery Probe by Independent Panel

Nissan is still saying nothing is actually defective with allegedly heat-degraded batteries in hot states including Texas and Arizona, but has now agreed to an independent global advisory board to investigate following numerous complaints.

Electric vehicle advocate and former GM marketing manager Chelsea Sexton will head the study, and choose its members.

The move by Nissan, focusing only on pointed criticism in Arizona, was announced in a letter on a main public focal point of the criticism, MyNissanLeaf.com.

The Sept. 22 letter by Carla Bailo, senior vice president, Research & Development – Nissan Americas, is a follow-up to a previous July 24 letter by Bailo saying Nissan only just learned of the perceived problem, and is investigating.

That Nissan was just discovering a problem was disputed and discussed by forum members, some of which have said they’ve complained all year, some since last year, and were told by dealers all was normal.

Aside from HybridCars.com, other publications have noted Nissan Leaf owners airing their dismay with Nissan in recent months, losing faith and selling their cars, among other actions.

Bailo’s letter does not get into these issues, but divulges what Nissan has to share at this juncture. It centers on findings of Nissan’s late July research of seven Leafs in the Phoenix area.

“With their agreement we brought the cars to Nissan’s Arizona test facility, where we removed the batteries for evaluation, measured capacity and conducted voltage testing on individual battery cells,” Bailo said, “These tests were diagnostic only; no modifications were performed to the battery packs themselves.”

Nissan tested: 1) if there were any defects in materials or workmanship in the individual batteries or vehicle systems; 2) if the batteries were performing to specification; and 3) their performance relative to the global LEAF population.

Bailo’s letter from Saturday said this week Nissan will reach out to the seven Leaf owners whose cars were tested – and it is believed this happened yesterday – but in the mean time Nissan’s findings are:

• The Nissan Leafs inspected in Arizona are operating to specification and their battery capacity loss over time is consistent with their usage and operating environment. No battery defects were found.

• A small number of Nissan Leaf owners in Arizona are experiencing a greater than average battery capacity loss due to their unique usage cycle, which includes operating mileages that are higher than average in a high-temperature environment over a short period of time.

The statement that the seven Arizona Leafs Nissan has admitted were affected had higher mileage has been disputed by Leaf owners this week, according to avid MyNissanLeaf forum member, Nathan Drozd, whose Leaf in Texas we’ve covered previously as being one affected.

Drozd said it is believed the average miles accumulated by these Leafs was in fact less than the standard repair cycle in Nissan’s manuals (7,500 every 6 months), and fairly close to the standard 12,000 miles per year.

In talking to the seven Leaf owners yesterday, what was said has not yet been reported, and it’s believed they may have signed non-disclosure agreements leaving the rest of the Leaf community in the dark on this subject.

Coming back to Bailo’s most recent letter, without addressing Leafs believed to be similarly affected in Texas or California, it goes on to include explanation of such concepts that batteries will degrade over time, and some mileage loss is reasonable and to be expected.

All this has been covered in spades by discussions amongst well-informed Nissan Leaf owners on the forum trying to rule out variables, and self diagnose perceived problems Some Leaf drivers have installed state-of-charge meters directly to their CAN-bus connections to objectively do their own testing/monitoring.

Reports of batteries losing 1-3 bars out of 12 on the Leaf’s in-dash battery power meter have been made by Leaf owners. Loss of two bars in just over a year’s time is concerning, with three being even more so.

Bailo said in Arizona there are 450 Leafs on the road, only a relative few of the cars out of this number with reported issues. Out of 38,000 Leafs globally it is a small level of occurrence, she said.

“Based on actual vehicle data, we project the average vehicle in that market to have battery capacity of 76 percent after five years – or a few percentage points lower than the global estimate,” Bailo said. “Some vehicles in Arizona will be above this average, and some below.”

The move to submit to an independent probe is no doubt an attempt to reverse negative perceptions that Nissan dealers and top brass also have been accused of minimizing, if not outright denying. And Nissan is still denying an actual defect exists, but says it is is willing to be held accountable.

Sexton has a good reputation furthermore as being unbiased, and with sensitivity to the public perception ramifications involved as well. She and Nissan engineer Jeff Kuhlman are reportedly working with others believed qualified to get answers to satisfy inquiring minds.

In related news, Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn has also said a new battery with more energy capacity is already in the works for the 2013 model year.

We will keep you posted as things progress.


  • Lad

    If the battery is fine, then for some reason the car is not charging the battery all the way…look for a faulty sensor or heat sensitive component in the battery monitoring circuits that may be limiting the charge capacity.

    The other area to investigate is to charge the car in an oven at various temps and see if they are that heat sensitive… I think Nissan has a unique opportunity to so some worse case testing of some hard used batteries to gain knowledge in this area. So, this information can only serve to improve our knowledge about using BEVs in the field.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    I would guess Nissan knows exactly what’s going on and a financial bet is being made to not offer buybacks like they did with the Volt over the battery fire hype. That might also be why there is no capacity loss warranty but just an illusion that there is one…. X% loss after X years etc… means nothing.

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    I believe the heat problem with the battery is at its worst when driving AND in a hot climate.

    Hot climate only increases “ambient” temperature. But during heavy load such as sustained hard accerlation, battery will generate even more heat combined with the high ambient temperature will actually damage the cells.

  • Arizona EV Pilot

    Only owned for 10 months and down bars… 5 stars on all my battery treatment reports… this is nuts! I have treated my car perfectly but Nissan has treated me horribly thus far. Much worse than the news reports. I have owned 3 nissans, but never again after the past few months of nissan being impotent. Come pick up my car nissan.

  • TEG

    In the article:
    “Sexton and Nissan ENGINEER Jeff Kuhlman are reportedly working with others believed qualified to get answers to satisfy inquiring minds.”

    Is Jeff an Engineer? Same Jeff as this?:
    http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/NEWS/2011/_STORY/111213-02-e.html
    Seems like another PR person…

  • Anonymous

    The problem here is the math.

    Everyone else will have 80% after five years with an average of 12,500 miles a year.

    Arizona LEAFs will have 76% after five years with an average of 7,500 miles/year.

    I dare Nissan to release their estimated capacity loss for Arizona LEAFs at the same milage as everyone else (most are putting it in the 50s (%).