Nissan holds the line
On September 24, 2012 two plaintiffs, one California based and one Arizona based, filed a class action against Nissan (found here) regarding LEAF’s battery capacity and driving range. The class consists of all 2011-2012 Nissan LEAFs sold or leased in California and Arizona.
Quickly reviewing the suit, we find many valid issues raised by the plaintiffs. We also see mis-statements.
In our view, we see the below listed items as valid complaints:
- Nissan advertised a 100 mile range which could only be achieved on a 100 percent battery charge. Nissan recommends charging to 80 percent.
- Nissan does not use an active thermal management system. Other electric vehicles (EVs) sold in the United States include active thermal management.
- Nissan estimates in the owner’s manual that 80 percent of original battery capacity will be available after five years, acknowledging that this is dependent on individual vehicle and lithium ion battery usage. Both plaintiffs vehicle’s approached that 80 percent number, based on vehicle instrumentation displayed, in less than two years.
There also, in our view, are mis-statements within the complaint as follows:
- Nissan claims charging the battery to 100 percent causes battery damage. While Nissan recommends charging to 80 percent, the owner’s manual does not state that charging to 100 percent causes battery damage.
- All Class vehicles suffered widespread, severe and premature loss of driving range, battery capacity and battery life. While some class vehicles have suffered the stated losses, we don’t see this as widespread. But the numbers are climbing.
What this is going to amount to in the end is how much of the accelerated loss is Nissan responsible for. Laptop batteries degrade. Cell phone batteries degrade. At what point does normal degradation become excessive. Nissan is still holding the position that battery and range degradation to date are normal.
A couple of observations
Below we list some of our observations on the current situation.
It is technologically highly unlikely that an active thermal management system could be retrofitted to existing 2011-2012 LEAFs. So that is likely not a solution.
While the 2013 LEAF battery will ultimately be less expensive to produce as it will be built in Smyrna Tennessee in potentially greater quantities than the current Oppama Japan plant, battery chemistry will remain unchanged in the near term.
Our belief is that Nissan will ultimately be responsible for replacing severely depleted batteries (30 percent or greater degradation in less than two years as an example) based on some pro-rated formula accounting for use, mileage, and length of ownership, with the vehicle owner bearing some portion of the replacement cost. It is a possibility that the replacement battery will be leased, even if the LEAF was purchased by the original owner. The lease terms will include some type of capacity warranty, which is excluded from the current LEAF battery warranty. We also believe that Nissan will ultimately be required to advertise the EPA rated range (which they appear to be doing now on the corporate website). Perhaps they will be required to advertise available range on an 80 percent recommended charge as well. Finally, LEAF 2.0 which we do not expect to see prior to the 2015 model year at the earliest, more likely 2016, will include an active thermal management system, along with the possibility of seeing different battery chemistry.
Interestingly, many of those suffering from early battery degradation still exclaim their enthusiasm for the LEAF experience overall. They enjoy the vehicle, the driving experience, and the fact that it doesn’t use gas. Some have acquired a second LEAF (usually leasing) after selling or trading in their first LEAF. Clearly, the battery degradation is the issue – not the car itself.
Nissan has a very steep uphill battle ahead of them to regain customer trust, and a need to step gingerly along the way. A slight mis-step could cause greater damage to the brand, and to the nascent EV movement.