Nissan LEAF battery capacity loss – Fourth in a series

by Ernie Hernandez on August 19, 2012

Battery assembly

I think my head is about to explode!

I’ve reviewed another twenty pages or so of posts, which now brings us to page 100 of what is now an almost 300 page long conversation on the My Nissan LEAF (MNL) forum regarding the Nissan LEAF battery capacity loss issue. With every passing post one can feel that the energy being sapped from the Nissan LEAF is being absorbed by this vocal group of owners as their commentary gets more heated with seemingly every additional page.

While a few more owners reported the loss of a battery capacity segment in this group of pages, of more interest to note is that at least two owners reported the loss of a second battery capacity segment. In one instance, this occured only six weeks after he reported the loss of his first battery capacity segment. Clearly, this was not the expectation of anyone buying a Nissan LEAF, whether that person would reside in Phoenix or in Portland – another initial launch city. At this point, as many as five LEAFs are reported on the MNL wiki page as having lost as many as three battery capacity segments. More interesting to me is that at least one of these is a low mileage car – less than 8,000 miles. Unfortunately, from an owner reported data standpoint, most of the driving and charging history of this particular car is unavailable as this owner just purchased the LEAF as a pre-owned vehicle. I took a peek into his future posts and found that this particular car was a lease return vehicle with one capacity bar gone when purchased by this second owner from CarMax. As expected, a Nissan dealer would not wish to have a used LEAF missing a battery capacity segment available for sale on their lot.

What is clear is that many LEAF owners expect a response – the sooner the better – from Nissan. While we have no idea what that ultimate response from Nissan will be, it is pretty clear from Nissan’s earlier open letter to Nissan LEAF owners, with less than one percent of all U.S. LEAF owners impacted by this problem, Nissan will claim that the problem is not widespread. Based on the available public numbers reported to date, it would be difficult to challenge that assessment. It is likely that there are other owners impacted by this problem that are not reported on the MNL forum, but it is also true that this particular forum has a large number of LEAF owners represented among its ranks. One could statistically extrapolate from this database to generate a reasonable picture of the larger problem. Too, Nissan has all of the CARWINGS data to review for those that have opted to use the system.

As we continue to wade through this information, it is becoming clear that the vast majority of these instances are occuring in extremely hot climate areas. While some instances are occuring in other locales besides Arizona, it could also reasonably be concluded that other factors may have been at play in those other circumstances. It has been previously stated that Nissan chose to forgo an active cooling mechanism in order to preserve passenger space. Whatever the ultimate reason, designing any car – gasoline or electric – is always an exercise in tradeoffs. For that matter, designing anything from a computer to a pencil requires making decisions that can later be looked at and scrutinized in great detail for their creativeness or foolhardiness. Such is the way in business. The perfect solution will never present itself, so the best combination (in someone’s view), is what finally makes it out the door. Had Nissan included a costly active cooling mechanism it would have raised the price of the car, and perhaps reduced passenger carrying capacity, in all areas not just those potentially affected by the accelerated battery degradation. In turn, those issues may have resulted in fewer potential units sold making it less likely that the vehicle would have made it out the door to begin with.

Are we trying to defend Nissan? Not particularly – we are just stating the obvious. At some point, someone is going to look at this and ask themselves (and likely a room filled with others as well), what are we to do? Ultimately we feel that this decision will be laid at the feet of none other than Carlos Ghosn – Nissan’s passionate electric vehicle (EV) advocate. The answer served up will not only impact Nissan, but potentially the entire EV marketplace as not only Nissan’s consumers, but other EV manufacturers, will be looking to Nissan’s response as a factor that could impact the EV world for some time to come.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Paolo August 20, 2012 at 8:07 am

The number of posts on the My Nissan LEAF (MNL) forum means that the Nissan LEAF battery capacity loss issue is very crucial.
Nissan must find a fix very soon and the batteries defective must be replaced.
I think this is the only way to give a future to the LEAF project.

Reply

Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) August 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Hi Paolo, I agree that this is a crucial issue. For that reason alone, Nissan must be careful in the way that they address it, so I can understand why they are taking their time evaluating the situation. It is not as if this is a safety issue where a failure can cause catastrophic loss. From that perspective, this is not an urgent issue. This is a range reduction issue in primarily (although not exclusively) unique environmental conditions. A too-rapid response that is not thoroughly thought out could be worse than what is currently seen by most as inaction on Nissan’s part. If I were Carlos Ghosn, I would have several LEAFs driving around the Arizona Test Center 24 hours per day at top speed stopping only to change drivers and quick charge them to put them back on the oval. Perhaps they are doing something similar. While that will accelerate the use portion of the equation, it cannot accelerate the time aspect. There is a calendar deterioration to the battery pack which can only be replicated with actual calendar aging. Perhaps some of those LEAFs driving around the track can be 2011 LEAFs with some time on the clock. Perhaps Nissan can come up with a multi-staged response that can give some relief to those currently experience battery capacity loss due perhaps to environmental conditions. Also, perhaps it needs to be understood that when a LEAF approaches or exceeds the 20,000 mile mark, there exists the possibility of losing a battery capacity segment depending on conditions in any environment. As with any new technology, more questions arise with the passage of time, and the use of that technology. We will continue to monitor this situation as it develops.

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downeykp August 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Keep up the good work going through the almost 300 page of this thread. It really appears after reading all 291 pages of the “early capacity losses” thread that there is indeed a problem with the design of the batteries. People are really freaked out. I had 6 temp. bars yesterday in 70 degree heat. That is without any dc quick charges. Nissan did not give enough info. to us their (launch customers) to make a real informed decision about buying the Leaf. They will need to make this right for all early adopters or they will lose a lot of future customers.

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) August 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm

downeykp, Welcome to Living LEAF. I would still be cautious of the idea that there is “a problem with the design of the batteries”. We have yet to see if/how other manufacturer’s that sell EVs in volume will fare in similar environments. Keep in mind, to this point in time, no other maker has as many pure EVs on the road as Nissan does. Issues such as this will arise in the LEAF prior to those other makers, but that does not mean that they will not experience similar issues.

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John Steele August 21, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I took delivery of my Leaf 6/02/11. I have charged it to full capacity every night since freeway consuction forced me to do so in late 2011. Before I was getting two trips out of a single 100% charge. I always started charging right before going to bed to allow the batteries to cool. The car has about 11,200 miles on it. On the morning of the 17th of August 2012(Friday), one charge capacity level was missing. Upon seeing this, I notified the dealership where I purchased it. The General Manager seemed “surprised”. I made an appointment to bring in the car the following Friday, which is yet to come. I have since set the timer to charge only to charge 80%. I read in the owner’s manuel that this is what Nissan recomends. I would have been nice if the dealer had warned me, when this began happening. Because I’m sure they KNEW!

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) August 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm

John, Welcome to Living LEAF. First – let me say that I’m sorry to hear that you are down one capacity segment. You state that you were getting two trips out of every charge. My first recommendation is that you charge every night instead, using a smaller portion of battery capacity each time. Charging to 80 percent and ending with 35 percent each day is better than charging to 100 percent and ending with 10 percent every other day.

Also, I am not surprised that the General Manager was surprised with your news. Most dealership personnel (including managerial level), know very little about the LEAF. There should be one trained LEAF sales consultant and one member of the management team, but that is not always the case. Often consumers know more about this vehicle than dealership personnel do.

Good luck in resolving this.

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Tom K August 24, 2012 at 9:36 pm

22,000+ miles so far in my LEAF… I’ve still got 12 bars, but my range is down 10 miles…

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) August 24, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Tom, thanks for the feedback. All real-world info is relevant in this situation.

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G July 15, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I have a 2011 leaf and drive extremely conservative and always ECO, always coasting, but lost a capacity bar before 20k miles. My main concern is that I’m only getting a 62 mile range now w/ 11 capacity bars, (down 10 miles) and only 52 mile range w/ AC. So when I have 9 bars, and if its out of the 60k warrantee I may only get 40 miles or less range and my car will be virtually useless. I’m really concerned, everyone says I made a big mistake.

It seems the 2013 leaf owners are getting a much better battery. Do you think the early leaf owners should write to Nissan? I don’t think the new warrantee coverage will be enough.

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) July 16, 2013 at 9:52 pm

G – Welcome to Living LEAF. I don’t know where you live, but assume that it is in a hot weather climate considering your battery capacity segment loss. The 2013 LEAF battery is identical to the 2011 LEAF battery. Improvements have been made to the electric motor and climate control system (on the SV and SL models) which is providing about a fifteen percent range improvement. The battery on the 2013 is still susceptible to heat deterioration, as are all lithium ion batteries. With this backdrop, my recommendation would be to trade in your LEAF (or sell it) for a two year lease of a 2013. These are the advantages of such a plan – you hand off battery replacement to Nissan, you know up front your expense of operation over a two year time frame, and you need not be concerned with battery capacity loss beyond two years as you will be returning the car to Nissan. Also, as battery capacity and technology continues to improve, you will be able to benefit by it with a new lease at that time. As you point out, continued deterioration of your battery will impact the future value of your car. Good luck with your decision.

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