When the first U.S.-produced 2013 Nissan Leafs roll off Nissan’s production line in Smyrna, Tennessee later this year, they will include a better heater, revised interior and a more powerful 6.6 kilowatt Charger that will halve the time it takes to charge from at a 240-volt, level 2 charging station.
When Nissan’s Mark Perry announced the Japanese automaker would be doubling the on-board charger’s power back in March 2011, he proudly proclaimed that Nissan’s upgraded charging system would also be available as an upgrade for existing 2011/12 Leafs.
Now a growing body of evidence suggests that anyone wanting to upgrade the charger in their Leaf to a 6.6-kW unit may be in for a tough time.
Hardware upgrades are usually complex
Unlike Nissan’s past and future software upgrades to the Leaf, an upgrade from a 3.3-kW charger to a 6.6-kW charger isn’t a case of plugging in a diagnostic tool and reprogramming the car’s on-board computers.
Instead, upgrading the charger is a lengthy process involving several hours of work on each car. As a consequence, unless there’s something wrong with the original hardware, offering an upgrade is highly unlikely.
The only exception we can think of? Tesla, which offered owners of its early Roadsters a way of upgrading their cars to Tesla Roadster 2.5 specification...at a price, of course.
The 2013 Leaf will have lots of little changes
When Nissan starts production of the 2013 Leaf, the on-board charger won’t be the only thing getting upgraded from 2011/12 specifications.
Instead, it’s likely that the 2013 Leaf, essentially a mid-cycle update, will have enough differences to the 2011/12 Leaf that the charger upgrade may not even fit or work in earlier cars.
Even Leaf technicians doubt the upgrade
Even if Nissan decides to offer the upgrade, it won’t be cheap.
“The cost to upgrade to a 6.6 is going to be thru the roof,” wrote one Nissan Leaf technician from Seattle on Facebook. “All the [High Voltage] wiring will need to be upgraded as well as the battery controller, the DC/DC inverter and the charger unit itself,” he explained.
Essentially, although the charger is located in a fairly-accessible hump behind the rear seat, removal and replacement with a higher-power unit is a big undertaking, perhaps as involved as a full engine replacement in a gasoline-powered car.
“The warranty cost on [a recent 3.3-kW replacement charger] was several thousand dollars,” the technician continued. “I imagine the 6.6 will be more. Not to mention they did not build these cars tech friendly. That charger is buried in there and the wiring will require battery removal.”
Nissan has gone quiet on the issue
If that wasn’t enough to convince you that existing Leaf owners are stuck with the 3.3-kW charger that came with their Leafs, even Nissan’s Mark Perry has become quiet on the issue.
Those who have broached the issue of charger upgrades with Perry and other Nissan officials recently report that Nissan isn’t promising 6.6-kW upgrades for 2011/12 Leafs.
[EDIT: Later today at an online Nissan town hall meeting with Leaf fans, Perry confirmed that there would be no upgrade path to a 6.6-kilowatt charger for 2011/12 Leafs.]
Just like the tech industry, it appears being an early adopter isn’t always the best position to take.