Saturday, January 19, 2013

Happy Birthday LEAF; Going To Yokohama!

Yesterday my LEAF celebrated its 2nd Birthday and my present? A trip to Yokohama courtesy of Nissan!

As part of a marketing focus group led by Chelsea Sexton, a group of us will discuss with Nissan what needs to be done to encourage sales. The 2013 MY does go a long way towards that end but there is still a question of getting the right message out to the public.

The 2013 does address better instrumentation, more options and price points,  (instead of  two loaded packages) and HVAC enhancements.

Nissan has also announced plans to install several fast charge stations in dealerships and claim great progress in this within 60 days,  a very ambitious statement!

But there are still key issues concerning both attracting new owners and supporting current owners which is just as important since the LEAF, being new technology will still generate most of its sales thru word of mouth advertising and unhappy current owners will not help.

I posted several queries and a partial list of concerns for current owners;

Enhancements to Current/Future LEAFs

spare tire
change/set default center screen
allow permanent "accept" of privacy for Carwings
reduce steps to make calls
more voice control for calls, NAV, etc.
More HVAC controls ("air only" mode)
multiple charge timers/ SOC setttings (remove ability to set conflicting times)
Google maps/ touch repositioning of maps/ POI's sortable by distance
Filter charger list (free, L1/L2, etc)
multiple voltage EVSE
Plug adapter kit
2nd 12 volt power port
120 VAC power port
automatic BT switching with multiple linked profiles with Primary setting
Better instrumentation (SOC meter added to 2013)with multiple ways to determine remaining range
fixed accelerator response
more powerful windows motor?
12 volt battery management
manual access in case of 12 volt battery failure/exterior hood release
 Convenient Eco shifting (why have to shift twice?)
adjustable Regen (addressed for 2013, Thank you Nissan!)

This is very much a partial list and I will be part of a very capable and motivated team but if anyone sees something missing here, please suggest it.

Now the primary goal of this is how to sell more LEAFs and some ways to do that is to eliminate two big obstacles.

One is the preconceived notion of the word "Battery." We all have experience with batteries and I fear that many people will associate LEAF reliability with their general experience with batteries, cellphones, etc. We have all had our cellphone die at the worst of times or simply forgot to plug them in.  Emphasis on how this is addressed is critical.

The other thing is cost. Nissan did reduce prices primarily by adding more options and reducing the base price along with adding an entry level model (should be a big hit with fleet managers!)

Finally the 3rd thing; Security.  People need to be able to do a TCO "pencil it out" on their own terms. Being able to plan for that "big ticket" item is a must for many. Battery replacement costs, Nissan support, Degradation, Range, etc. all needs to be clear. Granted, pricing of things change over time and battery costs should only go down for now but right now there is not even a process in place.

Marketing Suggestions

real people experiences in commercials
Retrench Dealerships/Sales. Not enough local knowledge to sell LEAF effectively
Display Range Chart next to EPA sticker
Fun to drive! Quiet, no shifting/lurching (drink coffee with no spillage!)
Costs for TMS, Battery replacement, Different Capacities, etc to provide ability for long term planning by owners

Time is money.  Driving a LEAF saves money.

A commercial bouncing around in my head. Two drivers both near empty and near home. One driving gas car, another driving LEAF.

Get a call from SO (significant other)  "Honey, make sure I have enough gas/range for my trip tomorrow"

Timer starts. Gas driver pulls into gas station while  LEAF driver pulls into garage. LEAFer plugs in, goes inside house to sit down. Timer on LEAFer stops.  Gas driver looks at line at the pump, while LEAF driver looks at daily mail.

Tagline; When is your "free time" really free?


  1. Dave,
    Congrats on your trip and Leaf anniversary. What push me over the edge and I no longer drive Leaf is fact that I was personally promised 80% battery capacity after 100KM and 10 years. This no longer is valid and recently announced capacity warranty is only 70% after 5 years and 60KM. When hot weather arrived CS treated me not so nice when I want to get advise how to protect car during heat that we had here. I felt that Nissan do not want us to help Leaf sale, and pretty much wasted people enthusiasm. My commute is all highway 70 miles RT, after trip to PHX I realized that after not very long time my commute won't be possible. I am very happy with my Civic Natural Gas is not perfect car, but I bought knowing what I may expect. So far so go and my cost per mile is on par with Leaf at 2c/mile. Not much worry about range or heat in the cabin or what to do when heat will be back. I always try to have most efficient cars on the market and got Leaf to support new technology but car maker choose not to support me so I am out. After loosing significant amount of money on my Leaf endeavour I am very careful to jump into Leaf again.
    As of increasing sales I see that offering very low lease option is drawing some people with very inefficient cars that paid more in gas than lease payment. Wonder if they will buy after initial low lease? Many may not see that but there quite few already that bought used with capacity bar lost and are very unhappy. I know that this is hard to control and expensive for Nissan but secondary customer maybe even more important that original. I would like EV to flourish but my personal experience is less than perfect so far.

  2. Anon; I agree that Nissan's reaction has been slow and unsatisfying. I did see the range chart when Nissan released it in 2010 and figured that I could beat EPA and I do easily by simply driving more conservatively which I had already been doing for years in my Priuses. But the lack of support (battery replacement, real analysis, etc) is inexcusable and that is exactly what we plan to address. Having the customer get the right information is critical. As far as the warranty, I understand the point. They did claim 20% after 5 years not 10 and that is with average use. I will probably see less than that due to my climate but what needs to be addressed is the effect of climate on the degradation rate

  3. Dave,
    Nissan banked on 2 things: gas price going up and high number of reservations. Both did not materialize and I hope they will never repeat that kind of reservation system as we had. My reservation was for nothing, I got my Leaf when reservation no longer needed. I think the big question here is how to get people to scarify a little and there are not that many reason to scarify. I do not think saving planet promotion is going to work. In order to sell car/Leaf you have to give simple message why one should buy and there is pretty much none left. What got me it was 100 miles but we know that this was/is not true for regular driver. I think Nissan should look at that again but this not LA4 or whatever it was but real life driver.
    As of 80% 100KM and 10 years that was promise to me and not once but twice

  4. One idea that I think would be cool is support for a range extending genset trailer. It's not a new idea, the T-zero had one and I have seen pictures of one on a RAV4 EV.

    I wouldn't want to own one, but if I could rent it once or twice a year, that would be handy.

  5. Patrick; I think the range extending trailer would be used for very specific trips where there is a major lack of infrastructure but I envision a rail system where one loads up the LEAF (plus any other gas car) and transports it to its destination to off load and drive locally. This will happen when the price of gas becomes prohibitively expensive. We are blowing our chance to raise gas taxes to fund infrastructure improvements. Personal transportation will always be a high priority but one based on single cars traversing the country is simply not sustainable

  6. They have this, the Amtrak AutoTrain, but it is expensive and has very limited routes. I wish they'd expand it. Way better than flying and renting or driving straight through (in my Volt it's inconvenient, in your leaf it's a herculean effort and very time consuming)

  7. Gcustom; i agree that a national rail system would cost a fortune but it will create a LOT of jobs that would be essentially very long term. Studies show that even a very ambitious project would take 20-25 years and employ a quarter million to build, another half million to operate and maintain. Oil is an end game. we cant make it and this world is finite. every day we wait to build an alternate solution is another day of catch up. price or bargains is no longer an option

  8. Dave: Have a great time in Japan! You'll love it there.

    The main issue our family has had with the car is that it is only a "niche" car. Although it can be used for longer trips, it's really only good for local use (unless extensive planning is involved). It works for 90-95% of our driving, but consumers (on the whole) want a car that can be used for every trip without having to think about it. A standard of how a car incorporates into one's life has been forged. Consumers want that ease-of-use standard.

    My wife works 25 miles away from our home. That's 50 miles round trip which is very doable every day (even in 32 degree weather). This works great every day unless we want to go "downtown" to dinner and a show after work or some other activity farther than 10 or 15 miles from our home. She has to come home early from work and plug-in for at least 2 hours before we can leave again in the Leaf (no Level 3 chargers around). This is disruptive to her schedule and she has to make arrangement with her manager every time she needs to leave early.

    Or like today, we wanted to drive 140 miles roundtrip to check on some family property. It's 28 degrees this morning and we know we would have to stop twice at the DCQC along the way for 30 mins one time and 60 mins another time in order to make it (maybe). That's 1.5 hours extra of waiting around along with the uncertainty of knowing if we have to find another charger somewhere because the wind is too strong or the temperature too cold (not to mention we will be freezing along the way because we can't use the heater in order to save electricity for range). Most consumers aren't willing to wait or have to plan like that...we decided not to go today due to the uncertainty and hassle.

    Nissan (or any other manufacturer) won't sell many more EVs(on a large scale) unless gas prices skyrocket and/or they extend the range and/or the Level 3 charging infrastructure gets much larger. No amount of accessories, small little changes or marketing wizardry are going to do it.

  9. The rails are already there, the service is too, and the autoCars already are built, they just need to service more pickup and drop off locations, and charge rates for people not going to Disney.

    1. Yeah I've always loved the idea of the autotrain so decided to investigate further, And it's a loser at least 19 hours invested for what would be a 13 Hour drive, At a Round trip cost of almost 900 bucks for a Standard car and only one passenger.

  10. Anon; Niche car or not, we dont have a lot of choices here. It has to be electric and the sooner the better. what is lacking here is the support needed for EVs to flourish and both Nissan and Tesla's decision to install a national quick charge network is a result of that lack of support elsewhere.

    Sure its great to get an EV with a 300 mile range but how many can afford that? count me out. I will have to make do with an 80 mile car because it does 95% of my needs and that is enough. It really only has to cover more than 50% of my needs since we have to have two cars anyway so in a sense, the LEAF's range is a bit of overkill.

    but the range will get better but it will be slow and expensive if we dont move to adopt the current crop of EVs. To say they are not ready for prime time is the same as saying they are not ready for 100% of our transportation needs and if you get right down to it, no car is. Keep in mind; the most popular "type" of car in the world is rejected by 7 of 8 buyers...hardly a majority or even close but its a significant niche worth millions of units annually and EVs can more than meet the needs of millions as well

    1. Dave: I agree we don't have much choice right now. As I also previously stated, the Leaf takes care of 90-95% of our driving as well and we love it. We also have one EV and one ICE and use them the same way you do. What I was trying to convey is that most of the sales up to this point have been EV enthusiasts and people willing to take a chance and try something new and different. The market is running out of those people. If Nissan wants to get more of the "regular" market share, they are going to have to make it so the Leaf can be used as people use their ICE car today or I guess educate people better on the setup we both have. When it comes down to it, we love our Leaf so much we want to be able to drive it all the time and not the ICE car. However, we also don't want to have to continually worry about having to plan for the charging. I know it will come, but market share probably won't come without it.

    2. Sage words. They should take note, and offer a range-extended version of the LEAF. I realize that they are likely committed to ZEV, which means that quick charging will be the only range extension they would consider. Still, I believe that REx will be an important transitionary technology. Training wheels, if you like, but important to increase sales.

  11. I own and drive a 2011 Nissan LEAF - it is my only vehicle. It meets my average daily needs and after 18 months there are been very few times when I needed a longer range vehicle. I may not be a typical driver or LEAF owner, but I bought the LEAF understanding the limitations.

    When I reserved and bought the LEAF, I was surveyed (several times) by Nissan asking me a lot of questions on how I felt about range and decrease of battery capacity - Nissan, in my opinion did all it could to inform me of what to expect. At the dealer, when I picked up my new vehicle, I was given a document "2011 LEAF CUSTOMER DISCLOSURE FORM For use with 2011", a 4 - page document explaining in detail the unique characteristics of EV and specifically the LEAF. The document is very detailed and specific and required me to sign it before taking delivery of the LEAF. I wonder how many people read it. If you read it and understood it, then I think you would agree that Nissan was diligent and did not misrepresent their product. I'm not saying Nissan is perfect, but I wonder if some dissatisfied LEAF owner really did their homework.

  12. Solarman; i responded to your FB post as well and yes, I have run into several LEAF owners that simply had unrealistic expectations. they got the car knowing their needs were right at the LEAF's capacity and then after a short period are upset that the LEAF no longer works for them. Now there are exceptions and one works just down the road from me and knew this would happen and went to Nissan to inquire about getting a new battery pack and how much it would cost and was told that unless it was a warranty issue (which it is not, he was very happy with the performance and has over 50,000 miles) that there were no packs available at any price.

    now for me, the LEAF covers 95+% of my needs and since we have to have two cars, anything over 50% is overkill. Eventually we will get 250 mile cars at a reasonable price but that will take time and the longer it takes to get the current options off the ground, the longer it will take to get that affordable 250 mile car

  13. Solarman, while I'm glad that you personally were properly informed, I would have to disagree with your notion that most owners would feel that way. I myself expected to get 100 miles on average, and one of my first posts online was a question if 50 miles of range was normal in freeway driving. Also please realize that the folks making the most noise were greatly affected by the hot climate they lived in.

    While the disclosure form in 2011 included some references to ambient temperature, a projection of 15 or 20% loss in 1 or 1/2 years was nowhere to be found. Most owners expected 20% loss at five years, with a linear decrease amounting to about 4% loss per year. There was also a change to the disclosure form in 2012, and more information was inluded in there.

    While some people are more experienced than others, a large number of the early adopters were true EV enthusiasts. They were not battery experts however, and the majority of them, myself included, did not understand what the LA4 cycle really meant.

    Funny thing is, I found a Nissan LEAF specialist giving incorrect information about that cycle to prospective customers on record. So this means that even people at Nissan need to be educated about some of these issues.

  14. Quick charging is a great solution for the right region. Where I live or the Bay Area where many destinations are just beyond the LEAFs range is where they are most effective. In other palces the extra 40-50 miles that QC effectively gives you simply isnt e NJ ough to make a difference. The one thing that has become clear up to this point inthetrip is thechemistry used was chosen for its stability andits reliability. Range gains are being made for 2013 thru reducing the length of the power path thru component integration, drivetrain optimization, and weight reduction. The next logical step is a larger capacity pack but atthe same time there are still ongoing incrementalimprovements being made as well.

  15. I like your idea for the commercial Dave. One thing my wife loves about the Leaf is not ever having to waste time at a gas station now. That's a good way to portray that feeling.

    One thing I think stops Nissan from selling more Leafs is that the Leaf is ugly as sin. I didn't want to buy one based on its exterior styling, but it is the only affordable EV game in town so I have to live with it. Nissan would get more sales with a sexier looking car.

    The other major problem I have with the car is that it is terrible in a strong wind. I get buffeted around like a kite when there is a cross breeze. Not sure if there is anything Nissan can do to fix this, but it would be nice to feel more stable.

    Have fun in Japan.

    1. Hi Dave. I remembered another thing that I don't like about owning an EV. The charging struture at public charging stations (Blink, ChargePoint, AV, etc).

      Everyone charges by the hour and not by the KWHs consumed. I had to wait 20 minutes the other day at a Blink L2 charging station at our local IKEA because I had already paid for the entire hour. It charges me $1.50 no matter if I charge for 5 minutes or 59 minutes. Additionally as a Leaf owner, I'm consuming half the amount of electrons as a Ford Focus EV so it's like I'm being charged twice as much for no good reason. All EV charging stations should charge a KWH fee, not time based fee. I'm not sure if the Nissan lobbyists in Washington DC can do anything about that, but I'm told it's due to utility laws not allowing anyone else to charge by the KWH. It would be nice if Nissan could put some weight behind making a charging infrastructure more fairly based on consumption and not time.

  16. +1 on all that Dave.

    Be sure to check each item off that list before you come home ;-)


  17. Anon; Nissan also recognizes that the next level of LEAF buyers will still be the "cutting edge" crowd, but unlike the early EV enthusiasts, The LEAF will have to justify its worth financially. They plan to address that issue with price, range and infrastructure. They lowered the price of the 2013, they are putting in much more fast charge infrastructure in places that make sense, and the battery chemistry improvements are ongoing.

    But once again, the key challenge is getting that message out there. the biggest barriers; the negative buzz around the word "battery" still price a bit, but also getting over the hurdle where most people overestimate their driving needs.

    As far as selling power by the Kwh. it is legal to sell it in CA by the Kwh. but parking in general is billed by the hour which is probably the reason why most of the current vendors are using that model. And yes, gas prices are hurting EV/hybrid sales as they usually do. year after year, full sized vehicle sales spike when gas prices are low, but as always, gas prices will go back up and keep in mind; they will be drawing from a continuously shrinking well