Saturday, November 17, 2012

Information Part Two; TMI

Steve is a LEAFer in the Pacific Northwest. Despite having had his LEAF for only 16 months, he has put over 57,000 miles on his LEAF making him the undisputed mileage champ of the USA.  His employer installed an L2 charger at his workplace near Shelton, WA allowing him to make his 60+ mile commute from his home in Kent, WA.

His battery pack is now showing the signs of age and he thought it best to contact Nissan for a quote on a battery pack replacement so he could get his finances in order to be able to make that purchase when the time came. Nissan's Response?  They basically told him that since the pack was not for sale a price could not be provided to him.  Now, how can a car manufactured for sale in the US not have replacement parts? especially a "wear" item (a wear item is a part or component that is expected to wear out like brake pads, tires AND batteries...)

I loaned him my SOC meter and we have determined that he can "probably" make  it till next Spring when the weather warms up and the car should perform more efficiently. I say probably because he will have days where a boost will be needed. He did report that he also got a heated jacket but there are some days where defrost will be needed to maintain visibility and we will also have a dozen days this winter where temps, precipitation, etc will require him to grab a quick boost somewhere.

Something made Nissan elect to take this position and I cant help but wonder why? After all, they did say that battery packs were available but only for warranty exchanges and since loss of capacity is not covered under the warranty, he is currently SOL.  Is Nissan afraid that providing a price now before the costs can be reduced will scare away potential customers? Ford was very willing to provide the price almost as if they wanted EV buyers to move to their new Energi line which they are heavily promoting. They even moved up the C-Max Energi launch from Q1 2013 to this past week in many areas of the country.

Now Nissan did have a grand opening tour event thingy set up for the new battery plant in Smyrna, TN that was canceled at the last minute. Official word was the logistics of getting the "key" players there could not be managed.  If we take that to be a valid reason, who is so important that the launch could not be done without them? Thinking it would have had to be a guest. Hmmm, hard to speculate further on this for "some" reason.

Now, if we were to think that the start up curve was a bit steeper than expected and the there might be obvious confusion on the factory floor readily apparent to even to a casual  observer, then maybe a tour would be canceled simply to "save face" but then again, this might give others more insight into just how monumental a task Nissan has taken on.

So now it boils down the question; What level of information should be provided to the consumer?  the "TMI" question is a tough one and advertisers know it.

Marketers generally use "buzz" words and pictures to sell product.  There is no such thing as non essential backgrounds in a TV commercial. Everything is done for a very specific purpose right down to the color of the bike the kid is riding in a neighborhood scene advertising home insurance (as if Allstate affected the "livability" of your home)  You get the "warm and fuzzies" and eventually your sub-conscious associates it with the product in a very small way.

But Buzz words come in two flavors; good ones and bad ones.  The challenge Nissan faces is how to describe the loss of range that will happen and make it "warm and fuzzy"

I was lucky enough to be picked for a focus group that will address how Nissan will provide this kind of information since it is vital that the consumer understand this and how it will affect them since the rate of degradation is very much tied to the local climate the LEAF will operate in. Sooo, any specific concerns, information you might want or questions you want answered? post them here. Cant promise much other than it never hurts to ask, right!


  1. Yes, I think you have it right: the problem is that the current cost to produce the battery pack is very high, and Nissan is effectively subsidizing it in the expectation that costs will be much lower by the time most people would be looking at a replacement (say 8-10 years), assuming they can achieve volumes by then. They also consider their battery cost a closely-guarded trade secret, since the key to EV success is reaching a tipping point where battery cost/capacity makes sense to a large number of buyers. It is indeed a common question for potential buyers to ask what a replacement pack will cost, and Nissan doesn't want to scare people off. Nor do they want to replace a lot of packs at an artificially low price. So, they are caught between these competing interests and feel it's better not to make a cost public at all.

    I don't agree with that stance. Uncertainty over battery replacement cost was my biggest concern when deciding to purchase a LEAF. I figure that the battery depreciation per mile is probably on par with the cost of the gasoline we're not burning (ca. $0.10 per mile), but decided to purchase anyway, for environmental reasons and to help the industry get off the ground. We are also in the opposite situation, where we might be able to get by till our pack is down to 50-60% capacity (depending on the charging infrastructure at the time).

    Telsa had a program where new Roadster buyers could pre-purchase a (53kWh) replacement battery pack for $12K, supposedly to express their confidence that battery costs would be much lower in 8-10 years. Doing something similar (at least offering a guaranteed future price) might help Nissan. They already do essentially the same thing with a lease. (My understanding is that Nissan plans to replace the packs in all the off-lease LEAFs before offering them for sale. If true, I really wonder how those will price out, given that the federal subsidy has already been taken.) But they still need to address owned packs that need early replacement. If Nissan is confident in their batteries, and that the number needing premature replacement is small, I think they should subsidize them to at least the level they do in new cars, and make the price public.

    For future cars, I'd love to see a system where supplemental battery modules could be added to boost/restore capacity, and where partial pack replacements were possible. It'd take a different approach to balancing and power sharing, but not having to replace an entire pack at once would be a huge boon.

    As far as the focus group: I think it would be a lot better if Nissan gave owners much finer-grained information on battery health (not necessarily right on the dash). I expect a few percent loss per year, so it wouldn't surprise or upset me to see a 1% drop now and then. But I'm really dreading the day that I'll see the first capacity bar disappear from the dash, indicating a full 15% drop in capacity. Better SOH info would also help owners project and plan for a replacement pack, and in the used market. This could be done with a firmware update.

  2. there is a law out there that states that any vehicle sold that has a warranty, the manufacturer must supply spare parts to cover that warranty so anyone is supposed to be able to buy parts out of pocket if so desired.

    Tesla's program of having one buy a battery pack now against future degradation and technological advances that would lower pricing serves Tesla more than it does the consumer. a 53 KWh pack probably will be $12,000 in 10 years but Tesla will get $12,000 plus interest. Granted there is no way to really tell how the economy will go, but 12,000 in todays money could be several thousand more 10 years from now.

    On the supplemental battery thought; there is already 3rd party vendors offering "booster" packs. prices not so good right now, but like anything else, those prices will come down as well