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Bad Omen For EVs: Nissan Leaf Battery Capacity Complaints

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On: Thu, Jun 28, 2012 at 5:29PM | By: Chris Weiss

Bad Omen For EVs: Nissan Leaf Battery Capacity Complaints

Battery range is already a major reason that electric vehicles are destined to remain a small niche in the market. An often overlooked demon lurking ominously behind the greater range issue is the penchant for battery capacity to decrease over time. Indeed, over the course of years, batteries will slowly lose their ability to hold charge, and range will get lower and lower until a replacement is needed.

If the experiences of some Nissan Leaf owners are any indication, battery capacity may soon displace range as the biggest drawback of electric vehicle ownership. Not two years after launch, some owners are already complaining about discernible capacity losses.

According to Green Car Reports, Leaf owners have been discussing battery capacity issues since at least May on the My Nissan Leaf forum. Some owners have reported the loss of a single power bar (out of 12), and at least two have reported that two bars have been lost. The loss of the bars equates to less capacity to hold charge and, thereby, less mileage on the road.

The complaints have been concentrated in places like Texas and Arizona, suggesting that hot weather may be interfering with battery capacity. As we saw with A123 Systems' new lithium-ion technology, hot weather can limit a battery's ability to charge to capacity.

Of as much concern to owners as rapid capacity loss is regular capacity loss. Nissan responded to an inquiry from Green Car Reports, saying that the issue is limited to several isolated incidents. It said that the battery will retain 80 percent of its capacity after five years under normal usage.

Even Nissan's average case scenario spells trouble for Leaf drivers. Nissan claims the Leaf can travel 100 miles per charge, but the EPA rates the car at 73 miles. If we assume that the loss of battery capacity translates into an equal percentage loss in range, then in five years, the Leaf will offer less than 60 miles (or 80 miles by Nissan's quoted standard).

Compounding the problem is the lack of information on how much it will cost to replace batteries. With EV technology being so new, there just isn't a lot of information as to how much battery replacements will cost, and automakers haven't been particularly forthright on the topic (probably to save themselves some customers). Estimates are typically in the four or five-figure range, but by the time that Leaf batteries begin needing replacement, they should be at least somewhat lower. Also, there's some evidence that individual cells, not just entire batteries, can be replaced, cutting costs significantly.

Whatever the case, reports of capacity loss, however isolated, aren't good news for early adopters or Nissan.


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