Leaf owners who have said Nissan has lacked full forthrightness regarding batteries delivering less range in hot states might be hoping it will turn over a new leaf, but a more fitting metaphor might be Nissan at least might like to turn to a new happier chapter.

Its story line however continues to be pretty much the same that there is no defect in its Leaf powertrain engineering and design, and the company is not at fault in any way.

That said, Nissan – with overall issues of flagging U.S. sales – has returned two Leafs under Arizona lemon law – while reportedly saying this was merely a “good will” gesture – and now it is facing a class-action suit in California.

Customer testimonials include repeated tales of Nissan dealers – and people higher up the corporate ladder – saying loss of range beyond expectancy set by Nissan in writing is “normal.”

Nissan’s Senior VP of Research and Development, Carla Bailo, said in an open letter in July to the MyNissanLeaf.com forum that the company actually had just found out about issues that had been going on for months.

But allegations continue – even from reluctant fans of EVs who were eager first adopters.

The angle taken by the California class action suit (points #7, 8) is that Nissan allegedly misrepresented range at 100 miles or less while not disclosing a 100-percent charge would be required for this – and while saying a 100-percent charge could damage the battery.

Also alleged by the suit (point #9) is “Nissan failed to disclose and/or intentionally omitted to reveal a design defect in the Leaf’s battery system (the “thermal management defect”) which is causing all Class Vehicles to suffer wide spread, severe and premature loss of driving range, battery capacity and battery life.”

We covered the thermal heat degradation questions in one article about personal problems experienced by one couple in Texas, and another follow-up.

To the class action suit, Nissan replied as follows:

Nissan is aware of the filing of a lawsuit by two Nissan LEAF owners. We believe the lawsuit lacks merit.
We stand by our breakthrough technology and the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. We also acknowledge and are grateful to our customers who have chosen to embark on a zero-emission leadership path with us.
In bringing this exciting new technology to market, Nissan has sought to educate the public and potential purchasers about the unique operating characteristics of an electric vehicle. Nissan has provided information on how the vehicle works, its estimated range, and factors that can affect both range and battery life through many sources, including the Nissan LEAF website, owner’s manual and detailed written disclosure.
While Nissan regrets that a very small number of LEAF owners are dissatisfied, Nissan stands behind its product and consumers, and remains committed to electric vehicle technology. Globally, more than 38,000 LEAFs are on the road and have travelled collectively more than 100 million zero-emission miles. In fact, LEAF customers are some of Nissan’s most satisfied. Just as a pickup truck or a sports car isn’t right for every customer, an electric vehicle may not be right for a specific customer. But if you’re determined to have minimal impact on the environment then an all-electric vehicle remains the only pathway to zero-emissions mobility.

As for the lemon law returns we also made note of following a TV report in Arizona, Nissan said it did this as a customer service gesture and used “a buyback formula modeled on an Arizona state repurchase law, given its established criteria.”

And it is sticking to its guns that the car does not need a thermal management system such as the Chevy Volt has.

Off-the-record comments we were told by a source in Japan are that Nissan’s people in America are getting much of their policy and marching orders from corporate heads in Japan, and have their hands partially tied while told to manage the problem.

Whether that is actually the case, Nissan’s official responses have contrasted to a public relations fiasco General Motors went through last fall into this year following the federal government’s side-impact test of a Volt. That car caught fire in summer 2011 three weeks after the car was parked without “depowering” the battery.

Neither GM nor safety officials reported this right away, saying they thought it was not very alarming and merely being researched, but once the news broke in November, GM found itself in a defensive posture.

Press coverage was perceptibly more vigorous – some would say merciless in some quarters – against “Government Motors” and while it could be said a potential “safety concern” was at stake, the actual risk was questionable.

As soon as the news became public however, GM took remarkable steps to disarm critics and allay customer concerns. It managed the mess with such measures as immediately offering free loaner cars to concerned Volt owners until resolve was made, and offered to buy back Volts without having to be taken to the mat.

GM was already trying to outlive the legacy of “who killed the electric car,” and launch its “disruptive” technology in the face of an army of critics.

Whether its Volt issues were worse or not, over time GM received a lot more ready forgiveness from customers – and even critics were more or less disarmed – because it was perceived as coming clean, bending over backwards to prove itself, and not perceived as working under a policy of denial and playing its hand close to its chest.

As for Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, its image and perception are still being questioned, if not in a less amplified manner than the Volt fire questions.

In Nissan’s and GM’s defense, one could also argue that a double standard is being unfairly applied by some against electric vehicles, but it is what it is, and GM was seen as offering maximum liberality to minimize collateral PR damage.

How Nissan has handled Leaf owners alleging 1) the battery should be thermally managed with liquid heating and cooling, and 2) inside one-and-a-half years some are claiming over five years degradation has occurred, is being observed even by the sympathetic to be less forthcoming than was GM, and we shall see where this goes.

A more recent statement by Bailo on these allegations maintains range loss has been within specifications, and experienced by only a small percentage of people in Arizona – while not even acknowledging complaints from Texas or California.

It is true the percentage is slim. It should also be noted Arizona and the other two states not mentioned by Nissan were first on the Leaf’s roll out schedule that began December 2010, and there are other relatively hot states that took delivery later, so whether we’ll see more claims in more states is another question among many awaiting resolution.