3 Aug 2018

New twist in Nissan Leaf battery story

From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am on 3 August 2018

Owners of Nissan Leaf electric cars with battery problems will have pay to upgrade the cars' software after a glitch was found.

Earlier this year a group of electric vehicle owners and researchers raised concerns about the cars' battery health.

File photo of a Nissan Leaf.

File photo of a Nissan Leaf. Photo: 123RF

The research group Flip the Fleet originally thought the 30-kilowatt hour battery life of the new Nissan Leaf appeared to be degrading three times faster than the old model.

Flip the Fleet co-founder Henrik Moller said a man in New Zealand had tested the batteries using a dynamo meter. 

"The driver would get a warning to say 'look it's time you charge your battery' and then a little bit later you get another warning 'right, it's really time you charge your battery. Stop and recharge.' But that turned out to an instrumentation problem and there was a lot more energy there for the driver after all." 

Henrik Moller plugs in his electric vehicle

 Henrik Moller plugs in his electric vehicle. Photo: Henrik Moller

“It’s a faulty petrol gauge really. 

“You always expect the battery to fade, it’s just like your cell phone, every time as it gets older it holds less and less and you have to charge it more frequently.” 

Nissan New Zealand has said that as it neither imports nor sells the Leaf in New Zealand, the owners would have to pay Nissan dealers to fix it.

“You need to find a certified Nissan dealer and take your car there, make an appointment and they will ask you to pay $100 excluding GST,” Mr Moller said.

Some had already done so, and were seeing dramatic improvements. 

“The most extreme cases that we’ve seen so far was a 17 percent increase, so if you apply the software upgrade we’ve been able to backwards calculate what the software upgrade, and how big the adjustment is." 

Mr Moller said the batteries after the software fix were so far outperforming the expectations of Nissan. 

Consumer New Zealand's head of testing Paul Smith said owners should not have to pay for the upgrade.

"They should go back to the dealer they bought it from and say 'hey, this is going to cost me $115 you should cover that because you sold me the car."

“If it’s a used import your contract is with the dealer that you bought if from.  Failing that it’s with the importer who brought the vehicle to New Zealand, they’re considered the New Zealand manufacturer in New Zealand law.

However, he said there was a bit of a gap in the law regarding used cars. 

“Not just around EVs, it’s the whole vehicle sector we’ve got here."

Mr Smith said owners could take the matter to the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal, saying people have a legal right to redress if it failed to meet "reasonable expectations of life". 

However, he said it was partly untested waters with electric vehicles being such a new technology. 

“If you’re one of the first ones in then you’ve got to accept that that is a little bit of an unknown, but you’ve got to accept as well that if it doesn’t meet your reasonable expectations of life that you’ve got some redress. 

“The Nissan leaf you’ve actually got a good stake in the ground to go for because Nissan have put out these expectations and they’ve put them out overseas.”

Although it could be a buyer-beware risk, he said there were indications it could pay off. 

“With a combustion engine car, you’ve got to think ‘if I do use that for seven years you’ve got a whole load of maintenance and repair for the engine and the gearbox that the EV doesn’t have’. 

He said the case was different to how safety recalls worked as well. 

“The onus for recalls is on the company but only because companies like Nissan New Zealand have accepted that they will deal with safety recalls .. it’s still a voluntary decision."

Nissan Leaf dashboard (Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons)

Nissan Leaf dashboard (Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons) Photo: Pixabay CC0 Creative Commons

Mr Moller and Mr Smith both said there was also another problem, once the faulty gauges were fixed. 

“If you do need a batttery, at the moment you can’t really get one,” Mr Smith said. 

“There’s not a lot of routes in new Zealand for you to get a replacement battery because Nissan don’t offer them because they’re not their cars [under New Zealand consumer law].” 

He said it would come down to market growth, where importers would have to start supporting battery replacement as well.