Lessons learned from early electric car: 2011 Nissan Leaf at 90,000 miles

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2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

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Being a pioneer isn't easy.

When you're pioneering new automotive technology, it can be challenging and sometimes costly. Just ask anyone who owned an early turbocharged sport sedan, for instance.

That also applies, in some cases, to some of the first modern electric cars, and in particular the Nissan Leaf.

DON'T MISS: Nissan Leaf leases can extend until all-new 2018 electric car late this year

As the first mass-produced battery-electric car, the Leaf included one design compromise that would come back to haunt some owners: its lack of active thermal conditioning for the 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack under the floor.

2011 Nissan Leaf - battery pack

2011 Nissan Leaf - battery pack

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The Chevrolet Volt and the Tesla Model S, two other early plug-in electric models, both used active thermal management for their batteries.

That meant, in simple terms, radiators with liquid coolant to shed heat from the battery.

The Leaf, however, relied on the pack simply radiating heat to ambient air—which proved insufficient in extremely hot climates like Phoenix, Arizona, where parking-lot surface temperatures can reach 140 degrees F.

For the 2015 model year, Leaf batteries switched to an updated cell chemistry (known as "lizard cells") that promised to tolerate high ambient heat far better than the cells used in 2011 through 2014 models. Thus far, those cells have not been reported to suffer the same capacity loss.

Nissan added a battery-capacity warranty after the problems came to light, and promised a replacement battery pack with the new chemistry if older batteries fell below nine capacity bars within the first five years or 60,000 miles.

READ THIS: Nissan Leaf New Battery Cost: $5,500 For Replacement With Heat-Resistant Chemistry (Jun 2014)

Some Leaf owners, however, have reported difficulty in getting these warranties honored despite their batteries losing enough capacity to trigger the warranty.

In 2011, Linda and Rick SantAngelo became the proud owners of one of the very first Nissan Leafs on U.S. roads. Six years later, they're deeply unhappy with the car's durability.

As Rick told us three weeks ago, "Just a couple days ago, my Leaf dropped to 5 bars down and its range is now overstated at 35 miles"—against its original EPA range rating of 73 miles.

What follows is Rick's story, edited by Green Car Reports for style, flow, and clarity.

Rick and Linda SantAngelo with the 2011 Nissan Leaf at 96,000 miles

Rick and Linda SantAngelo with the 2011 Nissan Leaf at 96,000 miles

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We were among the first to purchase a Nissan Leaf in 2011. Oh, how we loved it!

We could drive all we wanted for less than $1 a day for electricity, and it got better: we mainly charged at night here in the Pacific Northwest, when virtually 100 percent of our electricity is generated from hydro and wind.

The car was great in that respect, and it hasn't cost us a dime for maintenance, except for new tires.

CHECK OUT: Electric-Car Buyers Expect Battery Upgrades To Be Available

But six years later, we are totally bummed! At 91,000 miles, our battery pack is at less than 60 percent of original capacity and our range is around 35 miles.

That's all but unusable for us since we live up a hill 15 miles out of town.

When we bought the car, Nissan's official statement was that the battery should be at 70 to 80 percent of capacity at 100,000 miles, and it was backed by an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty.

2011 Nissan Leaf at 96,000 miles, photo by owner Rick SantAngelo

2011 Nissan Leaf at 96,000 miles, photo by owner Rick SantAngelo

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Today, Nissan Leaf Customer Support tells us that our battery condition is normal and to be expected, and that the car is not worth enough to spend more than $8,000 on a new battery.

Our local dealer claims to know nothing about the $6,500 price for a new pack announced almost three years ago, and Customer Support could not help on this either.


 
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