Exec Stands Firm on Nissan Leaf Batteries, Previews 2013 (Video)

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Ever since a handful of Nissan Leaf owners in Arizona noticed that their cars had started to suffer from premature battery aging, Nissan has been criticized for its apparent lack of transparency on the subject.

Just over a week ago, Nissan announced it had asked electric car advocate Chelsea Sexton to convene a Leaf advisory board to facilitate communication between the Japanese automaker and its electric car customers. 

As well as picking the board members from Leaf owners and electric car drivers worldwide, Sexton was also tasked with presenting some of the concerns and questions of Leaf owners to Andy Palmer, Nissan’s executive vice president, in a series of filmed, video interviews.

On Thursday, Nissan released the first of these videos on YouTube, tackling Nissan’s handling of battery degradation, dashboard gauges, battery replacement, and the upcoming 2013 Nissan Leaf.

According to Sexton, the video was recorded in a single sitting, and only received minimal editing to address sound problems sustained during recording. 

Battery degradation

Starting the interview, Sexton asked Palmer to explain Nissan’s math behind the assertion that all Arizonan Leafs were performing within Nissan’s expectations

“Let’s try to be very straightforward,” Palmer said. “There is a degradation of a battery over life. It’s straightforward physics and chemistry. It’s non-linear.”

“We did the original mean, norm, if you want to call it that, based on LA4 cycle, and an assumption of 12,500 miles per year,” he continued. “We drew a line, and we validated that line, through years and years of testing, against the chemistry that we launched.”

From that, Palmer explained, Nissan calculated an average battery life prediction for an average Nissan Leaf, somewhere in the world. 

“The mean line says that after 5 years of normal usage, then you’d be at 80 percent state of health. At 10 years in, you’d be 70.”

Reiterating that the way in which you drive, frequent quick charging, vehicle mileage, and extremes of temperature all affect Leaf battery life, Palmer went on to explain the poor battery life experienced by a handful of Leaf owners in Arizona. 

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Enlarge Photo

“[Phoenix] is a hotter climate, and you know, the usages are towards the more extremities of performance,” he said of the seven affected cars with severe capacity loss. 

“To be clear, I’m answering as an engineer. I’m not criticizing anybody. They use their cars in a hotter climate, and sometimes in a very different way.”

“We’ve sold 450 Leafs in Arizona,” he continued. “We have data for 400 of them. On average, ‘Mr. Arizona’ is doing about 7,500 miles per year.”

Accounting for the data from all the other Leafs in Arizona, Palmer said that in 5 years, most Leafs in Arizona will be at 76 percent state of health, instead of the 80 percent state of health predicted for cars in more gentle climates. 

Of note, however, is that this prediction was calculated on an average Phoenix mileage of 7,500 miles a year.

That figure is 5,000 miles less than the 12,500 miles per year Nissan used for its initial, normal battery range predictions, something Palmer failed to address in this interview.

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Enlarge Photo

Battery gauge

As was suggested in the past by Mark Perry, former product planning and advanced technology director at Nissan North America, Palmer confirmed that the battery capacity gauges found on the Nissan Leaf aren’t always accurate. 

“We made a decision from the get go to have a source of health meter on the [dashboard],” Palmer explained. “We did it, because we wanted the customer to know the state of health of their battery. And we did it from a security point of view, for the customer’s security.”

Admitting however, that the slowly diminishing capacity gauge has given some Leaf owners battery life anxiety, Palmer added “The reality is that the meter reads pessimistically.”

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