In May of this year, some Nissan Leaf owners in Phoenix, Arizona noticed that their batteries were losing the ability to hold a charge. Independent tests subsequently proved that electric cars running in hot climates could indeed fall prey to such problems.
But despite those increasingly loud complaints, the tests to back them up, and a class-action lawsuit, Nissan stood firm. Company representatives insisted that the problems documented in Phoenix weren't really problems because all batteries lose the ability to hold a charge as they age.
Now, the automaker has changed its tune. On a Nissan Leaf owner forum, the automaker has announced that it will soon be "enhancing the warranty coverage of the battery system that powers the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle".
The announcement comes from Andy Palmer, executive vice president for Nissan Motor Co. Though Palmer's forum post doesn't lay out the specifics of the extended warranty, the gist is this:
"Under an expanded New Electric Vehicle Limited Warranty, Nissan will protect against capacity loss in Leaf batteries that fall below nine bars, of the available 12 bars displayed on the vehicle’s battery capacity gauge, for the first five years or 60,000 miles in the United States, whichever comes first. For Leaf vehicles whose batteries have fallen below nine bars during this period, Nissan will repair or replace the battery under warranty with a new or remanufactured battery to restore capacity at or above a minimum of nine bars."
Below the announcement, there's a Q&A that offers some additional information:
"This warranty covers any repairs needed to return battery capacity to a level of nine remaining bars on the vehicle’s battery capacity level gauge. If possible, the Lithium-Ion battery components will be repaired or replaced, and the original Lithium-Ion battery will be returned to the vehicle. If necessary, the Lithium-Ion battery will be replaced with either a new or remanufactured Lithium-Ion battery. Any repair or replacement made under this Lithium-Ion Battery Capacity Coverage may not return a Lithium-Ion battery to an “as new” condition with all 12 battery capacity bars, but it will provide the vehicle with a capacity level of nine bars or more on the battery capacity level gauge."
Palmer's announcement also mentions efforts to improve the accuracy of the battery capacity gauge, which some had blamed for the readings in Phoenix.
But most important for current Leaf owners is this tidbit:
"The specifics of this new limited warranty coverage will be communicated to each owner in a dedicated communication early next year. The expanded warranty coverage will apply in the United States to the upcoming Model Year 2013 Nissan Leaf upon its release. Importantly, Nissan will provide this expanded coverage to all model year 2011 and 2012 Nissan Leafs sold and distributed by Nissan in the United States to date, effective upon a date to be announced but which is anticipated to be in the Spring of 2013."
It's curious that Nissan has taken this unusual step so late in the game -- months after complaints began surfacing and just two months after the company very clearly stated that the charge-loss problem wasn't really a problem at all.
From where we sit, Nissan's response may be almost entirely due to the power of the internet.
Prior to the rise of the web, America's few-thousand Leaf owners would've had difficulty communicating with one another, and even those who managed to clear that hurdle would've found it nearly impossible to draw attention to their cause.
But the web provides a perfect medium for owner interaction, and social media tools like Facebook help keep their cause front and center. Leaf owners are generally early adopters and should be serving as advocates for the the Leaf. Instead, the internet has been helping to turn them into adversaries.
In short, Nissan was losing the publicity war. As the complaints about the Leaf batteries grew louder, Nissan's reticence began to look like disdain -- and maybe even obfuscation. Realizing that Nissan was set to suffer serious PR setbacks, the company has come clean.
And none too soon. Sales of the Nissan Leaf have been sluggish, lagging behind other plug-ins like the Chevrolet Volt and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. Granted, the Leaf is a very different vehicle, with no gasoline option to extend its range. However, if it's to remain competitive in the U.S. auto market, the Leaf needs as many passionate advocates as it can get. We'll see if this latest move by Nissan helps.
[via New York Times]