Nissan: Sorry, No Exceptions to Charging Equipment Process
How many drivers does it take to plug in an electric vehicle? One, as long as you’ve installed a $2,200 home charging station.
Okay, it’s not really a funny joke. Then again, all the players involved with the rollout of the Nissan LEAF, and other upcoming electric cars, are not in a laughing mood as they take on the serious responsibility of rolling out thousands of the first plug-in cars to a new generation of electric car drivers.
For Nissan, that means establishing standard and streamlined processes for installing the required home charging equipment, with standard costs—with little or no exceptions to the rules. After a prospective LEAF buyer plunks down $99 for a pre-order deposit, Nissan, working with Aeronvironment—its charging equipment provider—sends out a contractor to assess the electrical service of the customer’s house. Sounds pleasant enough until the itemized bill arrives:
$1,296.68 (Standard installation)
$721.12 (Charging dock, wall mount 15' cable)
$300.00 (Installation permit and processing)
$49.95 (Shipping and delivery)
$66.70 (Sales tax)
In other words, the home charger costs $721.12 and rest is installation fees. Forget that the federal government will give you a tax credit for about half the cost. The big bill for installing what is essentially a special plug connected to a round electrical box with a start button is hardly a joke for many EV customers. Some customers, especially the hundreds of people who already own one of the previous generation of electric cars, are especially unhappy. They just want to buy the charging dock and install it. After all, they’ve been charging up their Toyota RAV4 EVs, electric Ford Rangers, and electric car conversions for years.
A group of drivers of the Toyota RAV4 EV fired off emails to Nissan to see why they can’t more simply add the new equipment to their existing home EV connections. In this way, experienced EV drivers could save time and money.
Folks from Nissan want to make the EV old-guard happy, and at the same time protect the streamlined process they’ve worked hard to establish. Mark Perry, Nissan’s North American director of EV and Advanced Technology, directly responded by email to the complaints—but he’s holding firm to the process: “A buyer is able to install [the equipment] as long as permitted [by] local codes, inspections etc. So that means a trained/certified electrician MUST do the work. Driving an EV does not qualify someone as electrician.”
Standard Installation, Revisited
So, at least for now, the company is focusing on the thousands of new electric car buyers who are starting fresh with home charging—and asking the more experienced plug-in owners to line up, and pay up, with the rest. (The conversations between Nissan and the EV old-timers are continuing.)
For some of the most ardent EV supporters, it’s not just a matter of money and convenience. Chelsea Sexton, a leading figure in the plug-in car movement, said, “The challenge in the bigger picture is not the effect any of these individual issues have on any particular company or vehicle, but that combined, they create the public and media perception that EVs are complicated, expensive, and generally not ready for prime time.” Sexton said that "standard installation" was tried in the 1990s, with the same result of creating backlash by consumers whose installs were far simpler.
In the end, it might not be the batteries, charging equipment or driving range that causes bumps in the road for makers of electric cars. Those issues have been anticipated and addressed. As usual, it’s the unforeseen issues that get you. It’s time for Nissan to step to the challenge of serving existing electric car owners—a consumer group not afraid to stand up for its rights and for the success of the product they love.
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