Following increasing news coverage of battery capacity loss in Phoenix-area Nissan Leaf's, word now comes that Nissan has offered to a Leaf buy back from Phoenix-area residents. Some Leaf owners, primarily in hot climates, claim the driving range of their cars has diminished more rapidly than Nissan has suggested would happen. After months of discussion on discussion forums, a large scale test by Leaf owners in Phoenix two weeks ago, an open letter published by Nissan in June, another open letter published by Nissan last week, and the establishment of an independent advisory board to be led by electric vehicle activist Chelsea Sexton, a Phoenix-area TV station has shown an interview with two Phoenix-area Leaf owners describing their ordeal and the buyback agreement, under lemon laws, with Nissan.
The issue is that Nissan's promise was the Nissan Leaf would have "80% remaining capacity after 5 years", which would lead a Leaf owner to expect their car to have a 58.4 mile driving range after 5 years of ownership. However, many Nissan Leaf owners have reported a steeper than expected loss of driving range.
Andrea Convey says the Leaf owned by her and her husband is being bought back by Nissan under the terms of the Arizona Lemon Law. Her husband, Mason Convey, went on to say he was not sure whether this is the beginning of an admission by Nissan that there is an issue, or whether Nissan is trying to keep a few people quiet. Scott Yarosh says he had to get rid of it when his Leaf would no longer handle his 45 mile one-way commute, after only 15 months. Yarosh told KPHO, "when I turned my car in, I could only get 42 miles on a single charge." Upon turning in his car early he was hit with $700 in early lease termination fees, which Nissan refunded in full a week later. Yarosh suggested "I think they're trying to get me to shut up."
The KPHO report concluded with a statement from an unnamed source inside Nissan that the company is considering stopping Leaf sales in Arizona due to the problems.
The basic problem is that some Nissan Leaf owners (or lease holders) are suffering from range degradation, and battery capacity loss, at a faster rate than is implied by "80% remaining capacity after 5 years." While the biggest problems are seen by Leaf owners in hot climates, like Phoenix, others who live in mild climates are having similar issues. The problems are being compounded by statements from Nissan over the last few months, as well as details of the Leaf battery warranty.
In a video recorded by Nissan's Mark Perry, it was made clear that the Nissan battery pack warranty does not cover loss of battery capacity, but does cover power output. He explained that the basic framework of the warranty as "Is the battery putting out enough power," so that the battery gives enough acceleration so you can safely drive on the road. Perry explicitly said that battery pack capacity is not covered in the warranty. This means that Leaf owners with high range degradation are not covered by the warranty.
He went on to explain that while heat can reduce battery pack lifetime, it is heat in the range of 130-140F or more is definitely not good for batteries, without recognizing that some places like Phoenix can get to that temperature especially when you factor in the heat amplification effect of a black asphalt parking lot. However, in an August web chat Mark Perry said "We've also been very transparent in making sure people know that battery capacity will degrade in very high heat – for instance, if the cars sit out in 110-degree heat for five hours a day." This should cause one to scratch their head a bit, because if the temperature range of concern is 130-140F then why does Perry now warn about a 110F temperature? Wouldn't it be normal for a Leaf owner to drive to work, park in the parking lot all day, then drive home? In Phoenix 110F days are as common as cupcakes.
The latest open letter from Nissan said of the seven Leaf's the company investigated that they are "operating to specification," that "battery capacity loss over time is consistent with their usage and operating environment" and that "no battery defects were found." Rather than reassure the MyNissanLeaf forum members, many took this as if Nissan was saying "nothing to see here, move along," as if to dismiss the problems Leaf owners are discussing. The MNL forum members are reaching an obvious conclusion, that a faster than expected battery capacity degradation is a "battery defect" and that Nissan must be practicing obfuscation. However, Nissan could be technically correct with their statements if "operating to specification" means that in a hot climate, and driven more miles than average, the Leaf battery pack would degrade faster than "80% remaining capacity in five years." In other words, it was always understood that actual capacity degradation would depend on many factors such as usage, recharge practices and climate. What Nissan did not do, however, was to clearly disclose the exact parameters of best practices to lengthen battery lifetime, and what practices would worsen battery lifetime.
The two who, so far, have gotten Nissan to buy back their Leaf under lemon laws are just two out of the 450 or so Arizona Leaf owners. Going by the discussion on MNL, getting to this point took herculean efforts on the part of those Leaf owners.
In the meantime there are two positive items indicating Nissan may be taking a new approach to their communications.
First, the company agreed to an independent advisory board to be organized by electric vehicle activist, Chelsea Sexton. While the board is not being convened specifically to solve the battery capacity loss issue, this issue probably sped up the process of forming the advisory board. The board is meant to "provide ongoing counsel to Nissan and strengthen the communication and engagement between Nissan and the EV community."
Second, Jeff Kuhlman, Head of Global Communications for Nissan Motor Co., joined the MNL forum to directly talk with the community. He promised a more open and direct dialog between Nissan and the MNL forum members. However, it appears there has been no further communication from Nissan since his posting, so much for direct dialog.
Update: Nissan sent this statement: “Nissan works hard to satisfy individual customers when they express unhappiness with their ownership experience. Based on internal data, LEAF customers are some of Nissan’s most satisfied worldwide. However, in Phoenix, a small handful of Nissan LEAF customers have complained of gradual battery capacity loss, which is a normal occurrence in battery electric vehicles, is expressly excluded under the vehicle’s warranty and can be impacted by extreme heat, high speed, high mileage and charging method and frequency. In the interest of customer satisfaction, Nissan has recently repurchased two customer vehicles as a good will gesture. The company’s investigation has determined that there is no defect with the Nissan LEAF, but we did use a buyback formula modeled on an Arizona state repurchase law, given its established criteria. The Arizona state repurchase law was only used for formula guidance in determining appropriate terms and conditions of the repurchase, including calculation of the repurchase amount.”