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3 Reasons the 2019 Nissan Leaf Lost the Brand Its EV Lead

The Japanese automaker claimed the crown for best-selling first-generation EV, but the 2019 Nissan Leaf fails to capitalize on the foundation it laid.


The first-generation Nissan Leaf holds an important place in EV history. As the only manufacturer delivering an all-electric car with close to 100 miles of range, in a price category much lower than the luxury segment occupied by other EVs, those first Leaf models provided an affordable alternative to Tesla during this early adopter period.

As a result, the Nissan Leaf was the first EV to achieve 400,000 global sales and held the title of best-selling electric vehicle in the United States until earlier this year. Unfortunately, it looks like the Japanese automaker has failed to make the most of its early lead in the EV market.

The 2019 Nissan Leaf has been passed by rivals with longer range, faster and more convenient charging, and features that many consider vital to any battery electric vehicle, but which Nissan opted to ignore.

Watch how the title of best-selling electric car has changed over the years with the latest EV sales figures in this video. (Please subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for daily automotive news and analysis).

Let’s examine three of the areas where many drivers, industry observers and current owners alike, feel that this popular EV brand dropped the ball with the 2019 Nissan Leaf.

1. Lack of Thermal Management in the Battery Pack

Battery degradation is always a lingering concern for early EV buyers, but Nissan has more of a checkered history in this area than other manufacturers. In fairness, this is primarily due to the company’s success in getting so many electric vehicles on the road before its competitors, but battery conservation remains an issue.

It was with incredulity, then, that many of us considering the second-generation Nissan Leaf heard that it wouldn’t come with thermal battery management.

Keeping the battery cool in summer and warm in winter is important. North American drivers face the reality of harsh winters in many areas and blazing hot summers in others. If you don’t have a heated or cooled garage, it’s not a pleasant thought to have your car’s battery pack sat outside to be frozen or baked by the elements with limited protection.

Fast charging is another issue related to thermal management, as the pack temperature needs to be regulated if you want to maintain the maximum charge rate without too much influence from outside temperatures.

Readers can simply search the term “Rapidgate” on Google or YouTube for various examples of this. Even if you don’t take many long trips in the 2019 Nissan Leaf, it would be nice to know you could rely on the car to reach its maximum charge rate without having to check the weather for every stop.

Direct rivals like the Chevy Bolt EV managed to include thermal battery management at a similar price point years before the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus emerged. The new Renault Zoe, recently announced for the European market and a less expensive option than the Leaf, also includes thermal management. Nissan’s decision to roll the dice on fan-cooling alone might save them some money, but it won’t win them too many fans among existing owners or prospective buyers.

Read John Goreham's informative story on Where You Can Buy a New Nissan Leaf for Around $20,000

2. Slow to Deliver the 62kWh 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus

As I cross-shopped the (admittedly sparse) options for a long-range all-electric vehicle back in early 2017, the temptation to wait for news about the second-generation Nissan Leaf was strong. The 2017 Chevy Bolt EV started to show up in New England showrooms around February that year but it wasn’t until June 2017 that we eventually took the plunge on our Bolt.

I’m glad we didn’t wait.

Although the styling of the new Nissan Leaf looked good, the specs that were eventually announced later that year completely failed to meet our needs. Nissan opted for the easier option of rolling out the updated Leaf with their existing 40kWh battery pack, which kept range at around 151 miles. A larger pack was promised in the not-too-distant future, but that was too vague for our purchase plans. It also lost the 2019 Nissan Leaf any jump it might have had on the Tesla Model 3’s standard range options.

Watch 4 Tips on How to Increase Nissan Leaf Plus Range and Drive Efficiently and Subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for Daily Nissan and Automotive Analysis.

As we now know, the Model 3 has completely upended the middle-tier of EV purchases. With compelling 64kWh packs also available on models from Hyundai and Kia, and the CCS charging standard looking increasingly dominant in North America, Nissan’s 62kWh pack with CHAdeMO charging feels merely standard, rather than something special.

3. Sticking with the CHAdeMO Standard

I expect to take a bit of a beating on this point, but I’ll strap on my armor and take my lumps: CHAdeMO is no longer an advantage, at least in the North American market. In fact, it’s quickly becoming a reason to not buy a Nissan Leaf.
Other established manufacturers seem to acknowledge this idea. For example, Kia switched from CHAdeMO in earlier models of the Kia Soul EV, to CCS on its newest version of that vehicle and the 2019 Kia Niro EV. Even Tesla, which has its own popular and fast proprietary charging standard, has added CCS to the Model 3 in Europe.

This demonstrates the need to be flexible in different markets, but Nissan is all-in on CHAdeMO and shows no signs of adjusting to trends in the North American market.

At the time of writing, the only viable non-Tesla charging network across the United States is Electrify America. For all its teething problems, the Volkswagen-backed fast charging network has rapidly deployed a nationwide set of fast charging sites and expects to have just under 500 locations coast-to-coast before the end of 2019.

The trouble is, each of these sites will only have one CHAdeMO plug, all of which are limited to 50kW charging. By contrast, every site has at least 3 CCS stations available, with as many as 10 stations in some locations and with a power output of up to 350kW. That adds speed, redundancy, and future-proofing for drivers of EVs using CCS, while only adding limitations and availability anxiety for Nissan Leaf drivers.

The reasons behind this decision can be addressed to Electrify America, but the fact remains that charging on long trips isn’t getting significantly easier for CHAdeMO vehicles and it will continue to limit Nissan’s all-electric models as long as they use it.

In my next story, I cover a potential charging issue for Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV drivers on Electrify America.

Where Does the 2019 Nissan Leaf Stand in Today's EV Market?

On the bright side, the updated styling of the 2019 Nissan Leaf gives it a much more appealing look, there are new electric driving features like the ePedal and ProPilot Assist, and the interior remains more comfortable than its most direct competitor, the 2019 Chevy Bolt EV.

On the topic of comfort, read my article on 3 Ways the Bolt EV Already Feels Outdated (and What GM Can Do To Fix It)

Nissan also has some headroom left in its use of the US federal tax credit, with most estimates giving the company somewhere between 50-60,000 more sales in the United States before it triggers the phaseout. That fact alone will soon level out the price concern raised above, but it can’t address the underlying concerns over questionable battery management choices and specs that lag competing models that have already been released.

The brand does still have a groundswell of goodwill from existing owners and, of course, the 2019 Nissan Leaf doesn’t completely wash that away.

There will still be many happy owners who find the car a compelling option for their use case, such as those with a long daily commute who only ever charge at home and have another vehicle for road trips.

What the 2019 Nissan Leaf doesn’t do is build on the impressive lead that the company established over the first half of the decade. Whether or not it can regain that position will likely now depend on the new electric models Nissan brings to market, rather than the limited appeal of the second-generation Leaf.

Were you disappointed in the 2019 Nissan Leaf?

How do you think this second-generation of the popular EV stacks up against the latest competition?

Let us know in the comments below. See you in my next story where I am discussing this one charging issue that impacts Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV owners.

Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate at Plug & Play EV. You can follow him on Twitter at @Plugandplayev, Instagram and Youtube at Plugandplayev Channel to send him EV news tips.


Michael Hutcheson (not verified)    June 19, 2019 - 7:19PM

Didn't properly explain the charging problem, which is the biggest reason they can't compete for anything beyond simple commuting. All other manufacturers failed to provide sufficient charging stations and speed. Tesla is superior in all EV aspects, but in an entirely different league with their Supercharger Network.

Steve (not verified)    June 19, 2019 - 11:08PM

In reply to by Michael Hutcheson (not verified)

What aspect of the charging issue do you think should be more deeply explained?

On a broader note, I'd question whether it's necessary for every manufacturer to build out their own charging network. Tesla had to do it as proof of concept, and did so exceptionally well, but the rest aren't in that position. Electrify America will have a coast-to-coast network in place by the end of this year, with three more cycles of investment still to come. The job of legacy automakers is to make cars that can take advantage of that network by charging at faster rates and delivering EVs in every form factor.

KCal (not verified)    June 20, 2019 - 7:31AM

I think the rapidgate killed the Nissan Leaf. That and of course the Tesla Model 3. What would you say about this?

Steve Birkett    June 20, 2019 - 9:21AM

In reply to by KCal (not verified)

I don't say that the Leaf is dead, just that it's falling behind the competition. I personally think the rot started before Rapidgate in 2017, when they couldn't bring the 62kWh battery version to market to go head-to-head with the Bolt EV. Charging issues and underwhelming specs just compounded that delay.

I'm not convinced that volume production of the Model 3 detracted heavily from Leaf sales. I think Tesla is, realistically, in the newly emerging middle tier of pricing above $40K. Yes, they have options available below that, but I think most current Tesla buyers don't want to skimp on features like Autopilot, so the cost inevitably goes up.

John (not verified)    June 20, 2019 - 8:59AM

Nothing needed past the 62kWh version. Nissan Leaf was the first and only EV available for a long time. Now EVs are becoming more mainstream and more competition is bringing more variety the same as current ICE vehicles.

Bill (not verified)    June 20, 2019 - 11:10AM

In my opinion, Nissan Leaf car doesn't need a thing. Nissan needs to start focusing on their existing Leafs coming up for battery change-outs 8 years down the road as it is now. And don't let the price of same surprise you.. just remember the gas savings over the 8 year$ and fossil fuels you left behind in the ground. That accounts for a few tonnes of GHG's saved. Mother Earth, I am sure, will dub you 'Hero'. I do too.

HenryK (not verified)    September 21, 2020 - 5:35PM

In reply to by Bill (not verified)

Unfortunately the CHAdeMO system is incompatible with CCS as the controller is in the car with both CCS and Tesla, while with CHAdeMO it is inside the gargantuan charging plug.
Retrofitting CCS to CHAdeMO cars, or adding it to J1772-only Leafs is probably going to be cost-prohibitive, while to connect a Tesla to a CCS or J1772 requires only an adapter from an electrically compatible charging station.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    June 20, 2019 - 1:34PM

The Rapidgate issue is annoying, but I would be looking at a Leaf (or it's competition) as mainly a commuter car, and the new Leaf looked promising. I liked the restyle over the previous design, and the price of the base model after rebates was barely over the previous model despite so many improvements made. Not having thermal management is a BIG point for warmer climates. Anyone paying attention to the resale values of the older Leafs knows that they plummeted because the battery packs lose range over time. The Chevy Volt's that I had (3) didn't lose any EV range over the time that I had them, and my ELR's range has actually gone up a bit. And I think that prospective Leaf buyers are at least somewhat worried about future resale value with the new Leaf saddled with aircooled batteries and CHAdeMO.

Andrew (not verified)    June 20, 2019 - 9:10PM

A reliable body that is less prone to rusting out is what will win in the long run. I want to see what EV's last after 12 or so years. Fix the battery/normal maintenance, sure.

David (not verified)    June 20, 2019 - 9:28PM

Competition is what's doing it to Nissan Leaf, and it makes sense. This is what a healthy, maturing, market does.

David Radzieta (not verified)    June 24, 2019 - 11:09AM

The older LEAF batteries prior to 4/2013 degraded more quickly because they are smaller and they are cycled more deeply and they tend to be left sitting at 100% charge more in the heat. This is still somewhat true for any batteries. It has nothing to do with active cooling. You spreading that misinformation is not helping matters. Active cooling is added to cars to prevent extreme heat and fires during recharging the cars. The LEAF batteries do not heat up and catch on fire so they do not require active cooling.

Chademo still outnumbers all the other quick charging services. Its a great method for car owners to charge and get back on the road. For example there are over 70 Chademo charger locations in Atlanta and the last I checked only 3 Supercharger locations. Similar ratio for most other major cities. No long lines for Chademos like people waiting for superchargers.

Nissan has done a poor job or no job at all of telling people how to select the proper EV for their lifestyle. You need a EV with twice the range of your daily commute, you need extra range for heat, AC, hills, and stops and extra errands. You do not need a 400 mile EV to get from paycheck to paycheck to fill your tank, you only need enough range for your next daily commute since it only take 2 seconds to plug it in when you get home and tomorrow morning it is all ready to go again.

Doug (not verified)    June 24, 2019 - 7:54PM

In reply to by David Radzieta (not verified)

Agreed, Chademo, while not growing a fast as ccs, still has numerical advantage, and fewer kinks in the available systems due to experience.

The new Plus can achieve 300 city miles when driven conservatively. Tesla sells on acceleration, which not the typical Leaf buyer. When fed savings and discounts below msrp and often invoice are factored in, Leaf is still 6-10k less than Tesla SR+. Nissan has just some a poor job showing all these facts. Alex on Auto did a test comparison showing Leaf had 8% more range then SR+ (SR limiting software not yet in place).

DeanMcManis (not verified)    June 24, 2019 - 11:54PM

In reply to by David Radzieta (not verified)

I believe that it is you that is misinformed. There are many studies that show conclusively that lack of liquid cooling for automotive batteries degrades their lifespan. Nissan did mislead early Leaf buyers in downplaying the consequence of fully charging their batteries, and leaving them in the heat at 100% charge. But those were not the only issues that shortened battery life. I personally know too many Leaf owners who lost significant battery range over time to think that having air cooled batteries did not play a big part in their range loss. I've also owned/leased 3 Volts, and now own an Cadillac ELR and there has been zero range reduction in any of those vehicles in the time that I had them. It is true that GM built in a safety buffer so that 100% full only used 80% of the battery capacity, but the heating and cooling of the traction battery undoubtedly helped as well. Show me facts to the contrary. I only know of a few Chademo stations nearby, and there seems to be about the same number of CCS and Supercharger stations around here as Chademo, but then again I have only had PHEV cars, so I don't really need or use charging on the road.

David M Norris (not verified)    February 24, 2020 - 12:33AM

I pretty much agree. The 2019 Leaf is comfortable and in many ways a superior product. But, the lack of thermal management and reliance on Chademo is a big problem in the US market. Till they address those two issues, they will be an also ran

Car man (not verified)    March 13, 2020 - 4:23PM

I looked at the prices of the Leaf Plus, but gosh, these prices are north of 35K, almost hitting 40K? Sorry Nissan, too much. I would then choose the much cheaper 40KW version as a commuter's car and another fancy car in the household. But the 40KW only has 150 mi range according to Nissan. Bet it won't give more than 120 miles in real life. Still ok for me, but I went for hybrid instead. No charging and just a gas sipper. With current gas prices, I am happy. No need for EV now.

HenryK (not verified)    September 21, 2020 - 7:45PM

One plus that is rarely mentioned is that many Nissan dealers offer FREE charging for Nissan Leafs. Two in my regularly traveled areas have CHAdeMO quick chargers. When the 2021 Ariya comes out next year it will have CCS, so I suppose that “participating” Nissan dealers will add CCS to their quick chargers.
How long this free charging program will last I have no idea. I would guess that the charging program will change to something like $250 charging gift card or one year free charging with the purchase of a new or traded-in Leaf or Ariya.
Tesla runs promotions of free charging. The original free Supercharging for the life of the new car ownership is no more but such is up to Tesla.
Nissan might offer promotions of that sort.??

HenryK (not verified)    September 21, 2020 - 8:53PM

Now that the states have begun fining EV and PHEVs, not just one-time at purchase but every year, the lower-end ones’ sale will be hurt. The Tesla S, BMW, other high end EVs won’t care much about a $100-$200 annual fine for owning an EV but the potential second or third buyer of a Leaf, a FIAT EV or other low-end model will be affected negatively.