Nissan Leaf Owners Hope For The Best, Fear The Worst

Be it a tempest in a teapot as Nissan has loosely suggested, or further damage to the EV movement brewing, eyes are on the maker of the all-electric Leaf following its analysis of customer cars suffering premature battery failure.

A few weeks ago – Nissan will not divulge exactly when – the company borrowed and tested seven of the worst Leafs out of dozens believed to be experiencing substantial range loss.

The common denominator for the alleged battery degradation for these Arizona Leafs has been ambient heat, as is true also of cars reported in Texas and California thus far.

The brewing discontent among early adopters in the MyNissanLeaf.com forum is being monitored by Nissan – as noted by tracking of Tennessee and Japanese IP addresses – and the company in July issued an open letter saying it had only just been made aware of problems, valued its customers and would follow through.

Meanwhile the forum members are sifting the tealeaves for portents for how Nissan will respond, how they will in turn respond, and some note with dismay the Leafmaker’s actual lack of an attitude perceived as sufficiently forthcoming.

According to one of a few wiki pages compiled by intrepid and tech-savvy early adopters, 33 Leafs currently have one bar loss out of 12 total bars on their digital battery gauges. An additional 19 cars currently have two bars missing – putting them deep into the zone where Nissan said would not happen for many years, and five cars have reported three bars lost.

The Leaf service manual says the first capacity bar loss represents a 15-percent loss, while each subsequent bar stands for a 6.25-percent additional loss.

There is evidence to suggest further that once these allegedly heat-degraded batteries begin to fade, they go down hill rather fast.

When we last looked at these issues late in July, we were following the case of Nathan Drozd in Texas who describes he and his wife as quintessential early adapters. Drozd’s Leaf lost its first battery capacity bar on the car’s one-year anniversary, and grimly said if he fits the trend, he expected to lose his second bar by August.

Sad to say, Drozd was right on the money.

“Just wanted to let you know, I lost my second bar today,” said Drozd via e-mail last week. “It was 23,652 miles on the odometer (3,446 from 1st bar to second bar loss). Time was almost exactly two months from the first bar (14 months total from ownership), it will be two months tomorrow.”

Nissan has said it should take five years or longer for a battery to be degraded to 80-percent charge-holding capacity, and being a technical endpoint for its specified service life – while the degraded battery could keep going as-is – it could also be said to be due for replacement. If Drozd’s battery gauge in his 14-month-old Leaf is accurate, it is telling him he is at 78.75 percent.

100percentSOC

With the battery 100-percent charged, this is what Drozd sees on his battery meter.

Among the possibilities being explored is that the on-board battery meter could be inaccurate, along with other potential software issues, but a number of engineers and technically knowledgeable folks besides have been monitoring their state of charge independently with their own CAN Bus-connected meters.

As for Drozd, he has simply noted significantly less traveling range compared to when his car was newer which roughly corresponds to what his battery gauge says.

What’s more troubling are anecdotal reports that upon bench testing some of the worst customer cars’ batteries, Nissan suggested they were in better shape than their owners believed they knew to be the case.

This trend was also alleged first at the dealer level, where missing bars have been portrayed as “normal.”

But Nissan has also already replaced at least one Leaf battery in the Phoenix area. That was reportedly in November 2011, and another was replaced in April 2012. Since then – and to keep mixing metaphors – the overheated Leaf battery problems have snowballed ever since.

So where are things now?

Officially Nissan’s jury is still out. We contacted the company and spokesperson Katherine Zachary said today she could share very little, although she did say a total of seven cars were tested.

The MyNissanLeaf forum members – sifting the tealeaves – have heard from at least six owners who had their cars thoroughly tested, and rumor had it this could be as many as 11 Leafs tested.

Today Nissan specified the count, but that’s all it has to say.

“We are studying the results of the seven cars tested and will let you know when we have something to share,” Zachary said.

Another aspect of this mystery already known is Nissan covered itself when it launched the car by not offering a battery warranty that would address issues like those now being experienced. The Chevy Volt battery is by contrast warranted, as is the similar battery in a Nissan alliance partner Renault Fluence Z.E..

It’s been observed the Volt’s battery affects emissions controls, as a degraded battery would make the engine run more often, but a Leaf with a degraded battery still emits nothing. Beyond this, Nissan has taken the warranty posture it has, which contrasts to General Motors which already suffered through the EV1 debacle, and in any case has learned some public relations lessons.

The Volt’s battery – as is true for Tesla’s – is furthermore more thoroughly engineered with a liquid cooling/heating thermal management system.

In February this year, Nissan said in an article touting its EV prowess that a liquid heating/cooling thermal management system was not necessary for U.S. climates.

In 2010 Wired ran a report suggesting the battery was under-engineered, and that was turned into an Autoblog post which has since proven potentially prophetic.

As patience is now being urged by Leaf owners, comments on the owners’ forum run the gamut, and all options are being explored.

One occupational hazard Nissan essentially took in creating an advanced battery electric vehicle is it attracted some forward-thinking people as its first customers. Many of these folks tend to be well educated, informed, proactive, assertive, and they are watching Nissan for potential improprieties, some of which have already been noted.

Leaf_chasing_attny_ad

Leaf owners have also reported being solicited by attorneys, and here’s a partial screen shot from a Web page for one firm fishing for business.

Said one poster:

[Forum member] Tony has been one of the strongest supporters of the LEAF and it is troubling to see the transformation in recent months. I should say that this is troubling for Nissan and it’s fledgling EV enterprise because clearly, unlike GM (maybe it’s really learned from the EV1 fallout), Nissan has not shown appropriate support for it’s early adopters!

Said another:


First, somebody must ask themselves what their end game is. For me, I want to see EVs succeed, and soon. Nissan could quite conceivably put a really big dent in that movement, or just make it a speed bump. This issue really is that pivotal, in my opinion.

Said another regarding possibly taking Nissan to court:

This idea of not pressuring or punishing Nissan “for the good of the EV movement” is ridiculous. You do not help a person or a cause by coddling their weaknesses. … Is it lawsuit time? Of course not yet. But one should not be afraid of that remedy and we should not be critical of anyone who goes that route. The complaint is legitimate and some kind of restitution is most definitely in order. Hopefully Nissan will recognize this and do the right thing.

And another:

The worrisome aspect at this juncture is that the reported degradations are SO much worse than Nissan predicted, it makes one wonder just how bad it might get — even in more temperate locales. And at this point I’m not inclined to give Nissan the benefit of the doubt in regards to degradation “flattening out.”

Unfortunately Nissan is quickly losing the ambassadorship of the enthusiastic early-adopters.

I think they really need to step out in front of this in a big way, even if they don’t yet have all the answers. And not a memo full of disclaimers and spin, but forthright statements and a major unwavering show of commitment, such as a retro-active warranty.

The clock is ticking.

A variety of opinions are of course being put forth, but a consensus is something is defective with the car and it is heat related.

Further, several have said Nissan has not been handling it nearly as proactively as GM handled Volt battery issues last year following a federal side-impact crash test – although truth be told, GM did not report a post-crash-test fire for months until the media got hold of the news.

Afterwards, GM did bend over backwards offering loaner cars and even no-hassle Volt buybacks to minimize a public relations setback for its nascent technology.

The Drozd Family's Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt

“After driving both the Leaf and the Volt, overlooking the differences,” Drozd says, “Lori and I have been completely impressed with the Volt’s batteries. Not only does its mileage estimator soundly beats the Leaf’s, the battery gets more predictable range.”

As it is, the greatest consolation Leaf owners seem to be getting now is from one another, and their forum is serving as sort of a support group, as well as a place to air views, while Nissan seemingly plays its cards close to its chest.

Depending on how things go, Leaf owners are preparing.

Options include potential class action law suits, registering an appropriate complaint with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Better Business Bureau, Consumer Reports, state Attorney General, or state lemon law.

Since there is no warranty on the battery however, it’s unknown how some of these suggestions would play out.

Leaf owners have also said such things as Nissan should have known better than to not employ thermal management, and some suggested the company would have done better only selling the car on the coasts, and avoiding the hottest climates.

Phoenix, Arizona has had record heat this summer, and while Nissan has said it has considered liquid cooling in places like Dubai, after testing pre-production Leafs in Arizona, it chose to make it one of the first launch states.

It’s anyone’s guess whether owners in other hot regions will add their names to the withered Leaf list after sufficient cars have been rolled out.

Nissan has repeatedly said cars with battery degradation issues have been but “a handful” out of the total fleet, and this is true, thus far.

Some are giving Nissan benefit of the doubt, and those wanting to see EVs succeed especially hope their more charitable attitudes will prove well founded.

We look forward to receiving more information from Nissan when it is able to provide it, and if any Leaf drivers have relevant news or insights to share, feel free to email jcobb@verticalscope.com.


  • Van

    You can assume some sort of internal interim report has been passed up the chain, perhaps not in electronic form, to provide management with a heads up.

    Tick tock

  • MrEnergyCzar

    They should just add more packs being that there is space for more in the Leaf, isn’t there? 3 bars is a big loss….. Liquid cooled batteries make better sense.

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Tony Williams

    Thank you for a well rounded summary of the issues. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Tony Williams
    San Diego, California USA
    Driving my second LEAF

  • Roy_H

    As I said before. There were plenty of clues, most importantly Nissan’s refusal to provide a warranty and their statement that all LEAFs returned from lease would be outfitted with new batteries before being sold. So part of me says “buyer beware”, but still these people bought their LEAFs in good faith and for the extreme cases (3 bars) Nissan should replace the batteries without fuss.

  • Dr. R

    Perhaps, but if they simply replace the batteries owners in hot climates will see the same degradation issues after about a year.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Maybe Nissan could start targeting buyers in the more temperate climates. Instead of Texas, Arizona and California, why not focus more on the Oregon, New York and the rest of the north east?

    Or.. gasp!!… CANADA!!

    Coldness saves batteries!

  • bloggin

    This is one of the primary reason the Focus Electric with liquid cold/heated batteries will be my choice for an EV. Besides the fact it looks a whole lot better than the Leaf. It costs a bit more for the more advanced thermal technology, which is why you will pay a bit more for the Volt Plug-In Hybrid and the Focus Electric(which also comes with faster 240 charging).

    I think Nissan is still dealing with their decision to try and do things on the cheap side. First they had to add the battery heating to deal with charging issues due to cold climates. Now it’s the inevitable challenge to add some sort of liquid thermal management to deal with the hot climates. Just adding more fans won’t help the situation blowing around hot air.

    Ford’s system is tied to the electric air conditioner, so cooled liquid is circulated around the batteries to maintain optimum temperature. The same with the heater to keep the batteries warm in cold climates. What’s cool about their technology is that there is a special reserve of battery power just for the heating/cooling of the batteries, so when the car is parked in hot/cold climates, so it does not impact your overall driving range. Along with using the grid power to maintain optimum battery temp while charging.

    If I were a Leaf owner, in a hot or cold climate(just because you live in a cool climate this year, does not mean you can’t move to a hot climate later), I would not settle for a quick fix, but a long term solution for all climates, which would be a thermal system, along with battery replacement.

    Seriously, if you are looking of buying an EV, just ‘lease’ the Focus Electric, which already has this issue worked out. Along with being a much nicer car(non-clown car) to start with. Hopefully no one is actually ‘buying’ and EV these days, when battery tech is advancing so quickly, and battery cost is dropping so rapidly.

  • Michelle Robinson

    According to Sandia Lab report on LiFeBATT, 5 years ago, the first 15% of LiiFePO4 lose capacity rather fast, but the remind 85% will last a long time.

    I has LiFePO4 in my Vehicle since 2007, I took t out last month to measure capacity, some Amperage has lost but there are more than 1/2 of capacity left, which could be use in home energy storge, and replace with new fresh battery pack, i driver must have the same long range.

  • Mick P

    What a bummer for Nissan and Leaf Owners. If the lemon law forces Nissan to buy back cars will Nissan refurbish, rename and resell them? What would they call the thing then, the Wilt? I came within an inch of buying a Leaf but opted for a Prius Plugin instead. I am banking that Toyota’s extensive experience and transitional approach will eventually get us there. I am a Hybrid of a person. I am a conservative with environmental/reduce foreign oil dependance concerns. This is what happens when the White House pushes a solution beyond the free market’s normal development time frame. We are borrowing insane amounts of money form China to fund technologies that are not yet ready. If this debt sinks our economy we can forget about anything green.

    M poole

  • Eric

    Hi, just bought are first electric car. Traded in my smart car which also did a wonderful job in saving me money. Now with the purchase of the Leaf were going to be rich! lol ….I use the Leaf for my commute to work which I work a grave yard shift.12 midnight till 8am. So as you can imagine my commutes both ways are awsome! Pretty much free sailing.My drive to work one way is 30 miles on the money. 60 miles round trip…. I use about 40 miles off the charge on the way into work(elevation going down) and about 50 on the way home.(due to im going up in elevation on way home) I can actually make it on one full charge which is great! I dont take risks like that in life so better news is I work in a Green building in Manhattan. They allow me to park in the building on the nightshift and since they are a Green Building they allow me to trickle charge it during my working hours which is a plus. I get at least 65 to 75 for the ride home!I also use it around my town…All the regular stuff you do with a veichle. All said and done I have done the math…with my truck just before I bought the smart car…I was burning 6 to 8 thousand a year on gas!!!! The look of the truck just wasnt worth it so I bought a samrt car which lowered that to just about 4 to 5 thousand a year. Ok imagine this…..Now I dont buy gas anymore for my travels to work. I am saving 4 to 5 thousand a year!!!! I am bugging out. Finally electric has come round! I have to say its totally awsome! I am very happy. Id be falling over the edge if it got at least 150 miles. lol Solar next? Complete freedom of energy! lol Thanks Nissan