Consumers Complain Nissan Leafs Lose Power in Hot Weather

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Nissan LeafSo far American taxpayers have been forced - through stimulus loan guarantees from the Department of Energy - to “invest” $1.4 billion in a Japanese car company to build an unproven, impractical, expensive vehicle at a Tennessee power plant.

And now it can’t stand the heat.

Nissan has been dealing with complaints from owners of its Leaf electric car who reside in hot-weather states like Arizona, who say their vehicles have lost range capacity.

“When I first purchased the vehicle, I could drive to and from work on a single charge, approximately 90 miles round trip,” said one Phoenix-area Leaf owner to CBS television affiliate KPHO. Now, “I can drive approximately 44 miles on this without having to stop and charge.”

The usefulness of an electric car that costs at least twice the equivalent gas-powered vehicle, at a 90-mile range, that requires hours to fully recharge, is dubious at best. At 44 miles it’s nearly worthless to the average American traveler. Yet the two owners interviewed by the TV station said every time they’ve visited a Nissan dealership about the problem, they were told it is “normal.”

A 50-percent capacity loss in one year is far from acceptable, especially when Nissan only warranties the Leaf battery for eight years or 100,000 miles. But the heat problems owners are experiencing aren’t limited to Arizona; a Web site forum called MyNissanLeaf.com has hosted an extensive discussion among owners who have experienced the capacity loss in other hot locales such as Texas and California.

For its part Nissan has said it will test some of the Leafs to determine what the cause of the loss is, but with the growing discontent customers will undoubtedly ask the company to make concessions like extended warranties or replacing the expensive batteries sooner. Hard to tell whether the company will comply, however, with the posture that dealerships have taken.

The official message delivered in response to discussions on the Web forum doesn’t sound promising, either, as Nissan Senior Vice President for Research and Development Carla Bailo said, “Battery capacity loss of the levels reported may be considered normal depending on the method and frequency of charging.” She also added, “lithium-ion batteries exhibit a higher loss of capacity early in life, with the rate of loss decreasing over time.”

That would seem like zero consolation for owners who were told they would get nearly 100 miles per charge. And with the limitations on owners’ existing warranties, and the amount of money they paid up-front for their Leafs, telling them the capacity loss is their fault might inspire a revolt.

As NLPC has reported before, heat isn’t the only problem Nissan has had with the Leaf. Cold weather, requiring the use of the car’s heater, also diminishes capacity. Hilly terrain demands more power from the battery as well, which reduces range.

Leaf sales this year have been horrendous (3,148 through June) – even worse than last year’s bad numbers (9,674 units), when it was rolled out. According to some reports Nissan is now marking the Leaf down by $5,000.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said in the past his strategy for electric vehicle sales depends on where countries offer the most government money to subsidize them. The $1.4 billion from U.S. taxpayers to build Leafs and their batteries in Tennessee certainly meets that qualification.

Only now it looks like a sizable amount of that plant’s productivity might go toward the replacement of early-adopting Leaf owners’ batteries, much like what government-subsidized EV battery manufacturer A123 Systems is doing now.

That's what passes for “normal” with the everyday conduct of business in the world of taxpayer-financed companies. 

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.