Government Stimulus Can't Overcome 100 Years of EV Battery Shortcomings

Printer-friendlyPrinter-friendlyEmail to friendEmail to friend

Nissan logoIt’s the battery.

Contrary to the excuses that Nissan has supplied about the loss of capacity for owners of the all-electric Leaf in the desert Southwest – especially super-hot Phoenix – a tightly-controlled test of a dozen of the vehicles showed that all of them experienced reduced range. Even a month-old Leaf could not recharge to 100 percent.

GreenCarReports.com revealed the dismal development this week. That the power reduction came so rapidly and so quickly debunked the claims of Nissan executives Carla Bailo and Andy Palmer, who suggested the problems could lie either with owners who were charging their vehicles improperly or that the power gauges were providing faulty readings.

The Arizona tests weren’t run by a bunch of skeptics out to prove what a failure President Obama’s electric car stimulus initiative is – even though it is. Leaf owners, led by EV advocate Tony Williams, ran the tests.

“Using twelve different Nissan Leafs with varying amounts of battery capacity bar loss, Williams and his team of volunteers meticulously recorded each car’s state of charge versus distance travelled on a pre-planned route,” GCR.com reported. “In order to eliminate as much noise from the data as possible, each driver was given a set of strict test conditions to follow, including no use of air conditioning, and traveling at a pre-set speed where possible.”

Despite Nissan’s claims that the Leaf gets 80 to 100 miles on a full charge, EPA has rated the Leaf at only 73 miles. Batteries tested by Williams and his friends that had lost 15 percent of their capacity (according to what their power “gauge” said) traveled between 73 miles and 80 miles, according to GCR.com. Those that lost more than 20 percent on their power indicators traveled just under 72 miles. The Leaf that lost the most capacity, having dropped 35-40 percent of its storage, could only drive 59 miles.

Worse, Williams told GCR.com that despite an extensive search, his team could not find any Leafs in the Phoenix area with a full battery capacity.

“One woman, who just bought the car a month ago, couldn’t come close to 100 percent capacity,” Williams told the Web site. “When fully charged, her car was in reality only holding 91 percent of its original ‘new’ capacity.”

Meanwhile Phoenix's CBS affiliate, KPHO, reports today that Arizona Leaf owners are threatening a lawsuit because they "are not getting very far with Nissan" after lodging complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Reports and Arizona's attorney general. The television stations says the Web site MyNissanLeaf.com has 375 pages of complaints and discussion about the problem.

"We have records online of over 80 cars now complaining of significant capacity loss and they all seem to be focused in the hotter climates," said Leaf owner Mason Convey to KPHO.

Amazing – besides the billions of dollars the federal government has poured into battery studies at universities and research institutions, the Obama administration has “invested” billions more in taxpayer money “stimulus” to manufacture still-unproven technology. The $1.4 billion in loan guarantees to Nissan for a factory retrofit for the Leaf are just one example.

NLPC has documented extensively the troubles of A123 Systems, which started two factories in Michigan thanks to $249.1 million from DOE and $135 million from the state. LG Chem, maker of batteries for the Volt and the Ford Focus Electric, built its own plant in Holland, Mich. with $151 million in stimulus from DOE (plus $100 million, cash, from state taxpayers). Bankrupt Ener1 received a $118 million grant from DOE to build batteries in Indiana – many intended for a repeatedly failed EV company, Think Global, that it had about a 1/3 stake in – which has also gone bankrupt. And Dow Kokam, a partnership between Dow Chemical and a Korean company, is opening a Midland, Mich. facility with $161 million in help from U.S. taxpayers.

In case you didn’t know, with electric cars, the battery is everything. Yet despite all the money spent and 100-plus years of research under scientists’ collective belt, there has been no significant technological advancement with regard to batteries’ cost, range, and efficiency, in terms for American usefulness for today’s electric vehicles. They are still extremely expensive ($12,000-$15,000 for the Ford Focus Electric battery, for example); don’t travel more than 100 miles, and usually much less; and still require several hours to fully recharge.

And as shown with the Leaf, and others, the technology is nowhere near practicality for most Americans’ driving. Leaf batteries degrade in the severe heat, but power also drains too quickly when drivers want to keep warm in winter or need to drive up-and-down hills.

With Fisker, whose supplier is the aforementioned A123 Systems, the $102,000 Karma electric car has been recalled twice due to problems with their batteries. At least four other of A123’s customers – including Smith Electric Vehicles, which makes electric delivery trucks – were affected as well on the second recall. Another A123 caused an explosion at a General Motors test facility in April.

And then there is the Chevy Volt, which has caught fire under test conditions and was involved in two separate garage fires in Connecticut and North Carolina the last two years. In both those real-world situations, the causes of the fires were never determined.

Meanwhile the public isn’t fooled. Sales for all electric vehicles are abysmal, and the president’s goal of 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 is a no-tailpipe dream. And as NLPC reported back in April, the Obama administration over-“stimulated” the electric vehicle battery market, as companies inspired by the flow of federal stimulus support don’t have enough auto-making customers for their products. Ener1 has already failed and A123 is on the verge of it.

The Detroit Free Press reported in April that the whole business is in peril.

“A looming shakeout in the industry, which would likely include plant closures and layoffs, is also likely to touch off a fierce debate over whether federal and state government officials made a major error by using more than $1 billion in grants and tax credits (in Michigan) to spur massive investments that are not yet needed.”

The paltry sales of the Leaf, and now more proof that battery technology is not much better than it was 100 years ago, shows there really should be no debate about government “stimulation” of the electric vehicle industry. But that matters little to those in Washington and state capitols around the country who spend other peoples’ money.

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