Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nissan Agrees to Leaf Battery Probe by Independent Panel

Published September 26, 2012

By Jeff Cobb

Nissan is still saying nothing is actually defective with allegedly heat-degraded batteries in hot states including Texas and Arizona, but has now agreed to an independent global advisory board to investigate following numerous complaints.

Electric vehicle advocate and former GM marketing manager Chelsea Sexton will head the study, and choose its members.

The move by Nissan, focusing only on pointed criticism in Arizona was announced in a letter on a main public focal point of the criticism,

The Sept. 22 letter by Carla Bailo, senior vice president, Research & Development – Nissan Americas is a follow-up to a previous July 24 letter by Bailo saying Nissan only just learned of the perceived problem, and is investigating.

That Nissan was just discovering a problem was disputed and discussed by forum members, some of which have said they've complained all year, some since last year, and were told by dealers all was normal.

Aside from, other publications have noted Nissan Leaf owners airing their dismay with Nissan in recent months, losing faith and selling their cars, among other actions.

Bailo's letter does not get into these issues, but divulges what Nissan has to share at this juncture. It centers on findings of Nissan’s late July research of seven Leafs in the Phoenix area.

“With their agreement we brought the cars to Nissan’s Arizona test facility, where we removed the batteries for evaluation, measured capacity and conducted voltage testing on individual battery cells,” Bailo said, “These tests were diagnostic only; no modifications were performed to the battery packs themselves.”

Nissan tested: 1) if there were any defects in materials or workmanship in the individual batteries or vehicle systems; 2) if the batteries were performing to specification; and 3)their performance relative to the global LEAF population.

Bailo said this week Nissan will reach out to the seven Leaf owners whose cars were tested, but in the mean time its findings are:

• The Nissan Leafs inspected in Arizona are operating to specification and their battery capacity loss over time is consistent with their usage and operating environment. No battery defects were found.

• A small number of Nissan Leaf owners in Arizona are experiencing a greater than average battery capacity loss due to their unique usage cycle, which includes operating mileages that are higher than average in a high-temperature environment over a short period of time.

Without addressing Texas, the letter goes on to include explanation of such concepts that batteries will degrade over time, and some mileage loss is reasonable and to be expected.

All this has been covered in spades by discussions amongst well-informed Nissan Leaf owners on the forum trying to rule out variables, and self diagnose perceived problems Some Leaf drivers have installed state-of-charge meters directly to their CAN-bus connections to objectively do their own testing/monitoring.

Reports of batteries losing 1-3 bars out of 12 on the Leaf’s in-dash battery power meter have been made by Leaf owners. Loss of two bars in just over a year's time is concerning, with three being even more so.

Bailo said in Arizona there are 450 Leafs on the road, only a relative few of the cars out of this number with reported issues. Out of 38,000 Leafs globally it is a small level of occurrence, she said.

“Based on actual vehicle data, we project the average vehicle in that market to have battery capacity of 76 percent after five years – or a few percentage points lower than the global estimate,” Bailo said. “Some vehicles in Arizona will be above this average, and some below.”

The move to submit to an independent probe is no doubt an attempt to reverse negative perceptions that Nissan dealers and top brass also have been accused of minimizing, if not outright denying. And Nissan is still denying an actual defect exists, but says it is is willing to be held accountable.

In related news, Nissan's CEO Carlos Ghosn has also said a new battery with more energy capacity is already in the works for 2013 model year.

We will keep you posted as things progress.


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