Nissan wants independent voice on probe of Leaf battery complaints
Seven Leaf owners in Phoenix say that their batteries are losing capacity after only a couple of years.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the role of an independent advisory panel that Nissan is seeking. The group would review Nissan engineering data and communicate with Nissan Leaf owners about reported problems with the car's batteries.
NASHVILLE -- Nissan Motor Co. will ask an independent global panel to help it better communicate with a small group of electric Leaf owners in Phoenix who believe their batteries are aging too fast.
While the automaker believes there is no problem with the lithium ion batteries, it has asked electric-car advocate and former General Motors marketing manager Chelsea Sexton to form a worldwide group to reassure disgruntled owners about their Leafs. Sexton's group will also be asked to help communicate the owners' concerns to Nissan.Nissan said the panel will independently review data that Nissan engineers have compiled to investigate the complaints.
The move was announced in an open letter published on the Leaf owner website, mynissanleaf.com, by Carla Bailo, Nissan's senior vice president of research and development.
"Members would be selected by Chelsea, not Nissan, and they would recommend their own mandate," Bailo's letter says. "But our hope is that they would hold up a mirror to us and help us to be more open and approachable in our communication and to advise us on our strategy.
"We at Nissan stand by our product, and we also stand by our customers."
The alleged problem has been a small but vexing distraction for Nissan as it prepares to launch a $1.6 billion project to mass produce the Leaf and its batteries in the United States starting in December.
Only about 14,000 Leafs have been sold to U.S. consumers over the past two years, and in many cases to eager early adopters of electric cars who waited months to obtain their Leaf from Japan.
Nissan has repeatedly reminded buyers that -- as with cell phone batteries -- the car's lithium ion battery modules will lose their ability to hold a charge with age.
But Nissan maintains that they should retain an 80 percent charging capacity after five years of use.
Nissan's Bailo: “We at Nissan stand by our product, and we also stand by our customers.”
Seven Leaf owners in Phoenix say that their batteries are losing capacity after only a couple of years. A squall has erupted on green-car websites among owners and alternative-vehicle enthusiasts who suspect Nissan is concealing a product flaw.
But this month, Nissan took the seven Leafs in question to its Arizona proving grounds to examine and test the vehicles. According to Bailo, the company found that the cars in question simply had higher-than-normal mileage.
She said Nissan concluded that the battery performances are in keeping with the wear and tear on the specific cars.
She said Nissan will reveal more about Sexton's role in a few weeks.
Sexton, who worked at GM on the marketing of the automaker's pioneering EV-1 electric car in the 1990s, has since become an outspoken commentator on advanced vehicle technologies.
She recently stated in an online interview that she went to work for Saturn Corp. at age 17.
Nissan spokesman Dave Reuter said Thursday that the panel will not undertake an independent investigation. But he said it is important that the Phoenix customers know that the company's recent conclusions are accurate.
"We're not going to say to the panel, 'Take our word for it,'" Reuter said. "We're going to give them all of our data to see for themselves. The data shows that the car is performing as it should be.
"We're 100 percent certain that there is no defect."
He said that the Leaf has created one of the Nissan brand's most satisfied owner bodies.
"When something is not right in the Leaf owner body," he said, "it is very noticeable."
Separately, Reuter said that Mark Perry, Nissan's director of product planning for the Leaf and a familiar face in national electric-car circles for the past few years, will retire from Nissan tomorrow.
Reuter said Perry, 55, has been planning the retirement for months and his departure is not related to the owner flap in Phoenix.
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.