Keep Your Cool: A Tale of Customer Relations and Battery Management

takeoff-550x412.jpeg

Some owners of the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle had found the driving range of their cars had dropped significantly. The story has escalated on numerous blogs lately; root causes are in my opinion in communication and the used technology.

The range had dropped even more than Nissan itself claims would be normal for the Leaf. The advertised range of 160km was down to 90% or less for some. Having confronted Nissan with the matter, Nissan’s initial response was there is nothing wrong with the batteries; it is just bad instrumentation causing the problems.

Warm Temperatures

One consistent factor in all cases with decreased ranges seems to be that the Leafs in question have all experienced higher than average temperatures (with a few exceptions). The warmer climate in for example Arizona or Texas can put a bigger strain on the batteries than more moderate conditions would.

“The phenomenon is not relegated solely to areas of extreme heat; many LEAFs now in moderate temperature areas of California have also experienced significant range autonomy reduction, however not yet to the extent of those cars exposed to Arizona and Texas heat.”

After more and more Nissan Leaf drivers raised questions regarding their dropped battery capacity, Nissan made a statement on their warranty. A lot is covered by their warranty, such as the amount of power that can be drawn (in kW), but not the battery capacity (in kWh). It is a bit of a defensive response if you ask me.

Nissan response

Personally I think the Nissan response to their customers is a bit odd; telling them it is normal, and then it is due to faulty instrumentation, and then telling their warranty does not cover capacity. It is not an example of the stellar customer service desks roaming the internet that we have come to like, quite the contrary. Nissan, please step up!

nissan-leaf-lemon-law-buy-back

A more detailed video on Nissan Leaf user experiences - Link

The Test

Across the Nissan forums, some of the affected drivers brought their electric vehicles together and put them to the test. How much had their Nissan Leaf really lost in driving range? A full description of the test is detailed in this post at Inside EVs by Tony Williams. The results are summarized below:

table-2-performance-550x558.jpeg

Advisory Board

Some time after these tests have hit the internet, Nissan has setup a Global Leaf Advisory Board, led by Chelsea Sexton. Nissan’s “hope is that they would hold up a mirror to us and help us be more open and approachable in our communications and advise us on our strategy.” Sexton previously served on a specialist advisory board for General Motors prior to its launch of the Chevrolet Volt, and is known and respected for her candor and knowledge of plug-in cars. Let’s hope this board will help customers feel heard by Nissan and that it will help Nissan to understand what customers want them to do. Communication problem solved?

Cooling

Other brands of electric vehicles have not made any splashes in the news like this. There are some isolated cases I could find, but if you are aware of more, please let me know. The main difference with the other EVs lies in the cooling method used. All the others used a liquid cooling system. The liquid is cleverly routed through the pack and absorbs the heat. The heat then gets released outside of the pack and the cooled down liquid is fed back into the pack.

20121008-084522.jpg

FWith the Nissan Leaf, there (used to be?) is an Air Cooled system in place. The benefit of an air cooled system is that is cheaper and easier to install. The downside is that the liquid system can absorb heat more efficiently, but the liquid also acts as a thermal buffer in colder/hotter conditions. I just hope that Nissan will either upgrade their battery cooling system, either with a better air cooling system, or just like the rest and hop on the liquid cooling system. I’d put my bets on the last option though.