New York Times Blogs
September 27, 2012
Spurred by a group of owners in Arizona, Nissan Motor is establishing an independent board to study how the automaker can better communicate with customers about the performance of its purely electric Leaf.
Creation of the board was prompted by concerns expressed by seven owners of the Leaf who cited a loss of charge capacity from the car’s lithium-ion batteries. Contrary to some media reports, Nissan does not intend to conduct an investigation of Leaf batteries. “There is no issue with the car or the batteries,” David Reuter, vice president of corporate communications for Nissan Americas, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Nissan evaluated the seven cars in question at its Arizona proving grounds for defects in their batteries or the vehicles’ systems and compared the performance of the cars’ batteries to those of Leafs globally.
The manufacturer concluded a “small number” of Leaf owners in Arizona were experiencing higher-than-average battery drainage owning to heavy use in high temperatures over short periods. Generally, Nissan said, batteries should have an 80% charging capacity after five years of use.
“While we understand that some Leaf owners are concerned about battery capacity loss, we want all owners to remember that all battery-electric vehicles—and all lithium-ion batteries—demonstrate capacity loss over time,” Carla Bailo, senior vice president of research and development at Nissan Americas, wrote in an open letter posted to MyNissanLeaf.com, a discussion forum for Leaf owners.
“As each user’s operating characteristics are unique and many factors impact battery capacity, we can expect some vehicles to have greater than 80% capacity at five years and some vehicles to have less,” she added.
Approximately 38,000 Leafs are on the road globally, including 450 in Arizona, Nissan says. After five years, according to Ms. Bailo, the battery of the average Leaf in the Phoenix market would have a battery capacity of 76%. “Factors that may account for this differential include extreme heat, high speed, high annual mileage and charging method,” she said in her letter. “We at Nissan stand by our product, and we also stand by our customers.”
The automaker recently approached Chelsea Sexton, a prominent advanced-technology expert who worked at General Motors on the marketing of the EV-1 electric car in the 1990s, to convene an advisory board composed of members of her choosing that would make recommendations to Nissan.
Speaking of Leaf owners, Mr. Reuter said, “What we have to do is improve communication to help them understand how cars are engineered and supposed to operate. We’re looking at where Nissan needs to do a better job in terms of educating customers about expectations and performance.” He declined to disclose the terms of Nissan’s arrangement with Ms. Sexton.
Although Ms. Bailo in her letter described the advisory board as a global effort, Mr. Reuter said most of the customer feedback would come from the western United States.
Manufactured in Japan, the Leaf is available in all 50 states but is sold mostly in California. Since the car’s staggered rollout began in 2010, a total of 13,902 units have been sold nationwide. Initially, the automaker hoped to sell 20,000 Leafs in the United States this year.
For the 2013 model year, Leafs for the American market are to be built in Smyrna, TN, and go on sale early next year. A plant adjacent to that factory will produce batteries for the Leaf, Mr. Reuter noted.
On Thursday, the first day of press previews for the Paris motor show, Andrew Palmer, executive vice president of Nissan, is scheduled to answer up to 15 questions posed in recent days by visitors to a Facebook page managed by Nissan. Although some questions relate to the performance of the Leaf’s battery pack, Mr. Reuter said he had not seen the final list of questions Mr. Palmer was expected to address.
Quality News Today is an ASQ member benefit offering quality related news
from around the world every business day.