Nissan sweetens Leaf warranty in answer to critics
NASHVILLE -- Nissan Motor Co. plans to bolster the warranty of the battery modules in its electric Leafs to reassure consumers of their durability.
The company intends to notify current owners and dealers early next year that it will make the warranty retroactive to cover all existing Leafs, offering to repair or replace the car’s lithium-ion battery if it loses more than 30 percent of its ability to hold a charge after five years or 60,000 miles.
Until now, battery life has not been spelled out in the car’s overall warranty.
It also will extend to new model Leafs in 2013.
The plan was revealed Thursday in a letter from Andy Palmer, executive vice president of Nissan Motor Co. in Japan, published online on the U.S. Leaf owner Web site mynissanleaf.com.
The move comes after months of back-and-forth between Nissan and a handful of vociferous owners in the Phoenix area who claim that their Leaf batteries are aging faster than Nissan told them to expect.
Unlike traditional vehicles, with simple lead-acid starter batteries, the Leaf is completely reliant on its integrated lithium-ion battery system, which represents the largest piece of the car’s value.
Like cell phone batteries
Nissan has made clear from its 2010 launch into rechargeable electric cars that the Leaf’s batteries would behave much like cell phone batteries, slowly losing their ability to hold a full recharge after years of driving. Nissan has told Leaf buyers that, based on normal driving patterns, they can expect up to a 20 percent loss of charging capacity after five years of driving.
But the Phoenix owners -- seven in all -- claimed the capacity loss was occurring much faster.
Their complaints generated consumer concerns across the Internet just as Nissan was attempting to market the Leaf in all 50 states for the first time this year. The company had forecast sales of 20,000 cars this year, but will likely end the year at well below half of that. It sold 8,330 Leafs in the U.S. through November, down 5 percent from the same period last year.
This summer, Nissan attempted to assuage the battery concerns by dispatching engineers and product planners to Phoenix to investigate. They concluded that the seven Phoenix owners had been putting twice as much mileage on their cars as a normal driver.
The new warranty coverage is not likely to concern the typical Leaf owner -- only consumers in areas where extreme summer heat and heavier-than-normal driving might result in more rapid battery deterioration, says David Reuter, chief spokesman for Nissan in North America.
“This is really to give owners confidence in the battery,” Reuter says. “The vast majority of Leaf drivers simply won’t see that kind of capacity loss.”
First warranty of its kind
In his online letter to Leaf owners, Palmer said that “with this action, Nissan becomes the first and only manufacturer in the automotive industry to provide limited warranty coverage for battery capacity loss for electric vehicles.
“Under an expanded new Electric Vehicle Limited Warranty,” Palmer said, “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."
“A vehicle whose battery has nine remaining bars indicated on the gauge is retaining approximately 70 percent of its original battery capacity,” he said in the letter.
Palmer also said that Nissan is planning to unveil an improvement in the precision of the gauge that displays the battery’s remaining capacity. He said more information will be made public on that after the new year.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at email@example.com.