Class action filed September 24 against Nissan

by Ernie Hernandez on October 2, 2012

It's Electric photo

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.

Valid complaints

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.

Mis-Statements

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.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom K October 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm

I’ve got 23,000+ miles on my 2011 LEAF with approximately 15% capacity loss. I do still have all 12 capacity bars however. Yes, my enthusiasm for EVs, and the LEAF in particular, remains very high…

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downeykp October 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Aloha Ernie, nice to see your posts again. We need your insights into this mess. I have had no issues with my Leaf here in the Pacific NW. My worry is that these vehicles will not be worth their weight in lithium. Because of this I am not very optimistic that I could recommend this car to anyone until Nissan makes this problem go away. Maybe a buy back option like GM did would be an option for those of us who leased or (like me) purchased. Keep the articles coming. Mahalo, Kelly

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Ilya Haykinson October 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm

I would rather have all the owners that can deal with degradation keep quiet and stay encouraging. While we definitely need Nissan to work to fix these problems, we also need the company that has so far done the most to promote and sell reasonably affordable production EVs to remain interested in doing so moving forward. If we make a gigantic fuss they might just give up and close the EV program, or change approaches and just sell 100 vehicles a year… Which is a bigger net loss to the world than some users and their two lost bars of charge.

We bought an experimental vehicle. This was quite clear. I think anyone who expects something different was deluding themselves.

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Tom K October 4, 2012 at 9:13 am

I definitely acknoweledge that I bought an experimental vehicle. I like the term “early adopter” better, however… But how do I keep quiet and stay encouraging? It seems to me that for EVs to progress, all levels of battery issues should be made known, whether they can be lived with or not…

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Ilya Haykinson October 4, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Agreed, but “making issues known” and “filing class-action lawsuits” are very different approaches in my opinion. I think good ways to make issues known is to be persistent with the dealer until you reach a conclusion (whether in your favor or not would probably depend on the issue), and if necessary writing a well-reasoned letter to management at Nissan North America outlining your long-term concerns.

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George B October 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Ilya, I agree with your recommendation that the issue should be approached constructively. On that note, I can guarantee you that the problem was escalated early and discreetly. Unfortunately, the response was underwhelming, and the situation for many owners in Phoenix deteriorated faster than anyone would have anticipated. Perhaps Nissan is right, and the average Leaf is on a glidepath to 76% remaining capacity after five years. Unfortunately, many owners were surprised by the large loss of range this summer, and projected this capacity loss linearly into the future. In that sense, perhaps not being transparent and not sharing some of the battery specs and characteristics upfront is now hurting Nissan. I’m not defending the lawsuit, as I think it won’d help the average owner. That said, I don’t think that it was filed overnight and without warning. Throughout the entire summer, Nissan has been enigmatic at best, and many owners grew increasingly dissatisfied.

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Paolo October 6, 2012 at 1:41 am

Six months ago I was investigating about the Leaf.
All owners were happy about the car.
Nobody complained.

Now the situation is dramatically changed.
The MyLeaf forum is 99% about the early capacity loss.
Tha facebook page reports many complaints.
The class action concerning the Arizona hot climate.
And worst of all, Nissan has no taken any initiative or said something.

I think the damage is great and the situation is hard to recover.

PS My Leaf is perfect after 6 months and 7k miles. I love it.

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Paolo October 6, 2012 at 5:14 am

PPS Andy Palmer is the wrong person in the wrong place.

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Justin H December 12, 2012 at 8:05 pm

4 months and 5000 miles, charge 100% during week due to my 68mile commute.

NO Issues, Saved $950 in Fuel already. Paid only $150 in Electricity = $800 savings in 4 months…. AWESOME

Very Happy! As are over 95% of LEAF customers.

Get in and Drive it

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) December 12, 2012 at 9:27 pm

We have found in our discussions with other LEAF owners that they tend to be extremely happy with their cars. We’ve talked with some that have reached well over 20,000 with no notable change in battery capacity. And the fuel savings are pretty sweet too!

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Jeff May 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I have over 35k miles and I can go about 60 to 70 miles on the freeway at about 60 MPH. Still very enthused about the vehicle.

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Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) May 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Jeff – thanks for this real-world feedback. Many may see this article and wonder if this could happen to them. Your experience provides some level of comfort to those that may be concerned. Also, I have shifted my basic philosophy of EV ownership to that of leasing vs. purchasing – at least for now. With a three year lease, the burden of battery life shifts back to Nissan at lease end. Also with the inevitable improvement of battery technology, if the improved range of the newer batteries impacts resale value of a purchased LEAF, it will not impact you financially as you have a pre-arranged end of lease value. Just lease another in three years time.

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