Web chat alerts Nissan to Leaf woes
NASHVILLE -- Nissan Motor Co. has dispatched engineers from Japan to look into online chat reports of battery problems with the Leaf electric car in the southwestern United States.
The automaker picked up on a potential problem with the car's battery life, possibly caused by sitting in the blazing Arizona sun, by reading about it in social media comments.
About five Leaf owners around Phoenix have complained that their cars' ability to fully recharge is degrading faster than expected, Nissan North America says.
Nissan has not determined whether a problem exists, says Mark Perry, the Nissan product planning director who has helped usher the Leaf from drawing board to U.S. consumers.
"All lithium ion batteries suffer a loss in capacity over time, and we've been very transparent with customers to make sure they know that," Perry says. "Over a five-year period, the capacity will be down to about 80 percent. That's normal.
"We've also been very transparent in making sure people know that battery capacity will degrade in very high heat -- for instance, if the cars sit out in 110-degree heat for five hours a day."
He said that Nissan is closely monitoring consumer discussions of the car to check for complaints or concerns, rather than waiting for warranty data to trickle through the pipeline.
Nissan wants to find out how the Phoenix-area owners have used their cars, and investigate whether the charging capacity loss is greater than it should be. "It's too early for us to know what's happening yet," Perry says.
Nissan also is investigating a separate cluster of Leaf owner complaints that one type of charging station -- the GE WattStation -- is causing the car's battery to lose its ability to recharge.
Perry said that the GE charger, which is sold through retail stores such as Home Depot, is approved for Leaf use and there is no evidence that it causes charging failures.
Nissan's Internet monitors also learned about those complaints by reading recent Web discussions. Perry estimated there have been fewer than a dozen incidents, and that the automaker is paying for battery repairs as it investigates.
The Leaf battery pack consists of 48 modules. Nissan is within five months of launching its $1.8 billion factory project to begin producing the Leaf and its battery modules in Smyrna, Tenn. The company has sold only 12,841 Leafs since it was introduced in December 2010. The Tennessee plant will have capacity to build 150,000 Leafs a year.
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