Nissan Leaf battery degrades quickly in hot climates

Nissan-dashJudging from comments received on other posts, many owners of the Nissan Leaf all-electric car love their vehicles. But some Leaf owners in Phoenix are less sanguine. These owners are experiencing a great decrease in range over time for their cars.

Leaf owners in Phoenix noticed that upon full battery charge, their dashboard charge indicator showed a decreasing capacity. According to hybridCARS website range per battery charge has dropped from the advertised 100 miles to as low as 44 miles.

At first Nissan claimed it was a fault of the dashboard gauge, but that proved not to be the case. The lithium ion battery was actually losing charging capacity over time. (See here for a detailed discussion on the physical and chemical processes which cause battery capacity reduction.) Tests show that the battery “ages” more than twice as fast in hot climates compared to cool climates.

Last weekend, a group of Phoenix Leaf owners decided to conduct their own tests. Green Car Report described the test as follows (abridged, see original article for full report):

The test, organized by Leaf owner and electric car advocate Tony Williams, took place over the past weekend in Phoenix, Arizona.

Using twelve different Nissan Leafs with varying amounts of battery capacity bar loss, Williams and his team of volunteers meticulously recorded each car’s state of charge versus distance traveled on a pre-planned route, using the popular third-party GID state of charge meter for added accuracy.

 In order to eliminate as much noise from the data as possible, each driver was given a set of strict test conditions to follow, including no use of air conditioning, and traveling at a pre-set speed where possible.

Moreover, some of the Leafs used in the test exhibited battery capacity loss after two years far greater than Nissan’s own five and ten year battery capacity estimates predicted.

 For Leafs with 11 capacity bars showing instead of the full 12 capacity bars, indicating approximately 15 percent loss in battery capacity since new, ranges of between 73 and 80 miles were recorded, in keeping with the EPA’s official range estimate for the car.

 For the six Leafs with 10 capacity bars showing, an average range from full to empty was recorded of just under 72 miles per charge.

 The worst affected Leaf, with four capacity bars missing, or around 60-65 percent of its original battery capacity remaining, was only capable of driving 59 miles before running out of charge.

The test results certainly vindicate those with lost capacity bars who had insisted their cars were suffering from premature battery aging, but without intervention from Nissan, it will do nothing to calm the fears of Leaf owners in hot climates who have yet to experience any battery capacity loss.

Heat isn’t the only problem suffered by Leaf owners. It seems also that cold weather and running the heater greatly decreases range also.

Consumer Reports tested the Nissan Leaf last year. While CR’s general impression of the vehicle was favorable, they did note these caveats:

“Seen just as a car, we’ve found the Leaf a very pleasant hatchback with quick off-the-line acceleration, a quiet cabin, comfortable ride, and easy access. But there’s an elephant in the room, or actually two elephants: limited range and long charging times.” “Clearly, you can’t easily take it on a long trip, especially an unplanned one, so it may not be the right choice for a single-car household.”

American taxpayers have “invested” $1.4 billion in loan guarantees for the Nissan Leaf. Considering the poor sales record, the demand for electric vehicles appears so far to be only a niche market. The reduced range due to rapid aging of the battery in hot climates could become another embarrassing episode in the green car saga.

See also:

Obama’s Electric car experiment a failure so far

The Chevy Volt, just the latest expensive toy

Does the Chevy Volt produce more CO2 from its battery than from its gasoline engine

Which Vehicles Are Most Energy Efficient?

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3 comments

  1. Yep, the Arizona impacted leafs are definitely a huge concern. I’m disappointed in Nissan’s response to the issue. For perspective, this is actually impacting a small subset of owners … My own leaf was exposed to over 30 days with temps of 100+ in the summer of 2011, and an even worse summer this year, but has yet to lose any.
    Still, my anecdote, and the fact that they’re a small set of customers, definitely should not detract from the seriousness of this issue to those impacted.

    I wonder, though, if Nissan may be holding out on replacing any damaged cells until the Tennessee plant comes online next month. There’s been a great deal of discussion lately of Nissan’s next-generation battery beginning to roll out; the timing coincides with the TN plant starting up…

    As for cold weather and heater use, it’s definitely a huge impact, but not unexpectedly large (at least it was about what I expected) – When temps dropped into the 20’s last year, I lost about 10% from the cold, and with normal heat/defrost usage I lost another 10%. Since I normally got about 75 miles, that put me down to about 60 in winter ( though I actually took one trip just seeing how far I could push it and it was notably worse, but I had to try). Also, it’s important to note that the heater efficiency has already been addressed in the 2013 model. The A/C in the leaf is exceptionally efficient, and starting with the 2013 the heat will be consolidated with the A/C utilizing a heat pump design. If the heat is anywhere near as efficient as the A/C is, it will move from the notable but not critical consideration it is now, to essentially a non-issue altogether.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. As much as I love the leaf, I definitely won’t argue that this Arizona issue needs exposure. Nissan needs to support the people impacted.

    OH – one more quick note. You mention the $1.4B loan to Nissan, as if that’s something that shouldn’t have happened. Do you really want to send the Smyrna,TN plant workers whose jobs are a direct result of that loan home without their jobs? Do you really think that, regardless of the Leaf’s outcome, the repayment of that loan would ever be in question?

    1. Thanks for the first person experience. Regarding your question, yes, the jobs are good; I just have a dislike of crony capitalism. Private enterprise should stand on its own.

  2. Living in Phx, only owned for 10 months and down bars… 5 stars on all my battery
    treatment reports… this is nuts! I have treated my car perfectly but
    Nissan has treated me horribly thus far. Much worse than the news
    reports! Why does Nissan celebrate temperate region owners for 40K miles in one year, but throw AZ owners with 20K miles under the bus? Shameful Nissan, no class. I have owned 3 Nissans, but never again after the past few
    months of Nissan being impotent and cold. Come pick up my car Nissan.

    P.S. Thank you Jonathan DuHamel for standing with us Arizona Leaf owners on this issue!

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