Nissan to Buy Back Some Range-Depleted LEAFs

By · September 27, 2012

Nissan LEAF

Nissan will buy back at least some range-depleted LEAFs from the Phoenix area.

PluginCars.com has learned that several LEAF owners whose cars Nissan recently tested at its Casa Grande facilities will be offered the chance to sell them back to the company. The offer could represent a monumental step toward re-instilling confidence in the LEAF among warm-weather drivers, mostly because so many owners had reported difficulties finding reasonable trade-in offers in the Phoenix area.

Chelsea Sexton, a respected EV advocate, was recently selected to head an independent advisory board. "I've seen confirmation from two owners so far that Nissan is buying back their cars," said Sexton. "There may be more. I know Nissan met individually with the seven core affected drivers on Monday. Both seem to be under the terms of the Arizona lemon law, so I don't know that it's necessarily an admission by Nissan that the vehicles are flawed."

“The ship is slowly beginning to turn away from rough waters,” said LEAF owner and advocate Tony Williams to me in a phone interview last night.

Williams has come to be one of the key organizers of a push by concerned LEAF drivers to get Nissan to address a heat-related range loss phenomenon that has grown to include dozens of reported cases, mostly in the Phoenix area. Earlier this month, drivers organized a range test of 12 of those vehicles in an effort to prove that the issue was more than just “normal” battery degradation, as has long been suggested by Nissan.

This weekend, the carmaker began taking steps to make things right with owners. On Saturday, senior vice president Carla Bailo sent out an open letter to the LEAF community, admitting:

“A small number of Nissan LEAF owners in Arizona are experiencing a greater than average battery capacity loss due to their unique usage cycle, which includes operating mileages that are higher than average in a high-temperature environment over a short period of time.”

In the letter, Bailo also promised that Nissan would “stand by our customers,” announcing the appointment of Sexton to head an independent advisory board to help make the company “more open and approachable in our communication and to advise us on our strategy.”

On the MyNissanLEAF forums, Sexton clarified that the board hadn’t been created with the intent of acting as a go-between on the range-loss issue, but rather to provide an ongoing engagement between Nissan and its LEAF customers. Furthermore, she expressed her hope that issue would be largely resolved by the time the panel first convened.

Several LEAF Owners Will Be Offered a Buyback

All of the details of the buyback are not yet clear, but suggest some commitment on the part of Nissan management to correct the problem.

In calculating its expected rate of range loss for the Phoenix market, Nissan has leaned heavily upon one misleading statistic: the roughly 7,500-mile average annual driving distance in the Arizona LEAF market. But as Tony Williams pointed out to me, this number fails to paint a complete picture of how the LEAF was likely to be used in the area. “It’s like if you were to calculate the average temperature here in Phoenix,” he told me. “At the higher end, things can be pretty extreme, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that from simply looking at the average.”

Both Mark Perry, Nissan’s North American director of product planning, and Carla Bialo made statements over the weekend indicating that higher-than-average mileage was likely a contributing factor in the range loss. When it was learned that Nissan had predicted just 7,500 miles per year from its Phoenix customers rather than the national average of 12,500 miles per year, that claim began to make increasingly more sense.

It should be noted that Arizona LEAF owners were never made aware of Nissan's internal range estimates before they purchased their vehicles.

A Lesson in the Importance of Communication Between Carmakers and the EV Community

Above all else, the Arizona LEAF owners I’ve spoken to over the past few weeks shared one common disappointment: they felt as though their complaints were falling on deaf ears. That was likely never Nissan’s intention, as it could have led to widespread mistrust of the brand had it continued indefinitely.

Importantly, the benefits of having a solid channel of communication between carmaker and early EV adopter aren’t unique to Nissan or warm-weather LEAF owners. In rolling out their cars, plug-in vehicle manufacturers have the benefit of selling to one of the most active and passionate consumer bases out there, whose feedback and experiences could prove instrumental in future marketing and product development.

“I think every automaker needs something like this,” Sexton told me in an email earlier this week. “Drivers are one of the most underutilized resources in EV deployment.” Perhaps after this early breakdown in owner-manufacturer communications, that could soon change.

UPDATE: We have been informed that CBS 5 Arizona reported in their local newscast last night that the LEAF buybacks will take place under Arizona's Lemon Law. Click here to watch their full report.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.