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.