Saturday, December 1, 2018

Beyond Carlos Ghosn and Andy Palmer, Was Nissan Ever A True EV Proponent?

In The Beginning

It was November 2010 and despite it being rainy Western WA, it was not raining but it was cold, very cold.  But that did not deter me or the hundreds of others who gathered at Southcenter Mall in Tukwila WA to get a chance to see and drive the new 2011 Nissan LEAF.

For years, it had been my dream to drive electric. There were no downsides I saw and it was a good for the environment, good for the economy (Especially in Washington State where we had no hydrocarbon resources but tons of clean electricity) and good for me.

But options were few.  I started with Priuses in 2004 and loved the the short stints of EV only operation and the challenges of getting higher and higher MPGs from each tank of gas.  The excitement ratcheted ever higher in May 2009 when I got the newly released (to few early adopters) 2010 Prius that now had a dedicated EV only button!

But like the ZENN I picked up in Oct, 2007, it was limited. The 2010 Prius wouldn't go much faster than 20-25 mph in EV only mode and only for a mile or so. My ZENN, despite being my daily commuter for 3+ years was barely any better. It had lead acid batteries and monumental battery issues (making LEAF a HUGE step up) complicated by the fact that I had mine modified to go 35 mph since Washington allows NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) to go that fast along with Montana (of all places) the only 2 states that allowed NEVs to go faster than 25 mph.

But my employer allowed me to use a 120 volt outlet so I was golden for my 16 mile commute. My co-workers hated seeing me doing whatever they could to pass me on the 4 lane Yelm Highway (speed limit 40 mph) so they wouldn't get stuck behind me on Henderson Blvd (two lane road with big hill) where the hill would slow me to 25 mph...

But the desire to EV... to like another town was unfulfilled. It soon started to gnaw on me. I decided to take a two pronged approach by getting a Lithium pack upgrade for the ZENN to boost range to 50 miles and get a pack add on for the Prius to get me almost the same EV range but all that did not come cheap back then so a lot of investigating and comparison pricing was needed.

Now the add on pack for the Prius was easy enough. Other than a handful of DIYers, there was essentially only one option.  But the ZENN thing was completely different. It was all about choosing the right cells at the right price and the landscape was changing fast. I had finally decided early in 2010 on a Chinese source and was ready to order when I hear about the LEAF. It was January, 2010.

Here was an affordable, highway capable EV.  Realize at the time, the only option was the $100+K Tesla Roadster which was is and never will be an option for me.

So I read all I could find about this LEAF car (took all of 10 minutes) and decided that was what I get.  So now it was get in line to order,  start liquidating assets (after all, had 2 Pruises, F-150 and a ZENN.  Not only did I not need all that, I didn't have room to park what I already had!)

So April 10, 2010, I reserved a chance to RAQ (Request a Quote) and received invite for that Sept 30, 2010 which I did within 10 mins of receiving the email to do so becoming one of the first LEAFer in the state of WA on Jan 18, 2011 when I picked up my 2011 SL.  This began a long relationship that continues to this day with a company I thought shared the same ideology of EV mobility.

I realized as an early adopter, it was important to relay my experiences and feelings, both good and bad. There was little bad (despite HUGE range anxiety and a near absent public charging network) and a lot of good. Yeah, I was restricted to a circle of roughly 40ish miles I could drive but every day, it became better.  I was lucky to live in a town that received one of the first Chargepoint chargers in the Summer of 2010 but then again, it was 6 miles from home. What I needed was something away from home and that was just around the corner as Chargepoint, Blink, and Aerovironment came online.

My LEAF's useability was bolstered by battery monitoring apps like  GIDmeter and LEAF Spy.  The rapidly expanding public charging network was soon to be tracked with Plugshare. All of which soon became essential tools for any EVer.

Anticipating The Future

I was also lucky enough to be invited as part of a group to Nissan World Headquarters in Yokohama,  Japan where we were advised the 40 kwh LEAF would be arriving along with infiniti EVs in a program that was spearheaded by Andy Palmer. Each year would see a new EV or Plug in entry to the Nissan stable. His excitement over Nissan future electric mobility plans was infectious but as things turn out, he never go to see them thru.  Aston Martin lured him away fulfilling his lifelong dream to be the Chief of an auto company.

Well, the 40 kwh LEAF still happened but the infiniti EV did not nor did any other plug in.  What was even more surprising is that after nearly 8 years, Nissan still only had one EV entry in the North American Market.

The Bombshell

Ghosn was arrested by Japanese officials for income reporting irregularities and corporate spending spanning nearly a decade.  Soon it became apparent, the arrest was due to the concerted efforts by Nissan officials to discredit Ghosn.

In Japan honor holds a much higher place than most societies. In a situation where a powerful figure in a company makes mistakes intentionally or unintentionally, it is the generally accepted practice to minimize blame on a person especially in the public eye.  Punishment still happens but it done in a low key and private manner. But Ghosn's arrest was anything but literally creating arguably THE news story of the decade in Japan.

But as the details untangled, fault became murky.  Nissan accused Ghosn of using corporate cash for personal gain especially in homes Ghosn supposedly purchased. It soon degraded into a "he said, she said"  where Ghosn claimed he did not own the various houses and that they were corporate homes used while engaged in his corporate duties that involved extensive travel while running companies on two different continents.

There was also a question of how Nissan finance controls and bookkeeping could allow many many millions to spent illegally over several years without stopping or mentioning it long ago. IOW, there is a lot of indicators that Nissan knew what was going on but looked the other way because during this time, Ghosn was in the process of rescuing Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy.

The final step in his plan was a merger between Renault and Nissan to become one of the largest car companies in the World but it seems that Nissan had tired of foreigners running things and the arrest was their way of "purging" the company and putting it back in control of the Japanese.

What's Next?

The details of the arrest and the outcome are still pretty much up in the air so all the above is simply speculation but it does give me an understanding to several things including why Nissan has moved so slowly in the EV arena.  It would appear that Ghosn was very much fighting a battle with odds stacked against him.  Again, after nearly 8 years, no 2nd EV offering from Nissan while sister company Renault (obviously more accepting of Ghosn) has a few along with the Nissan's own eNV EV in Europe.

It is also interesting to note that the elephant in the room, Toyota has also nearly EVless in its offerings making me think if Nissan hadn't had financial issues and didn't need a bailout would they be offering "any" EV at all right now?

But the final straw happened earlier this week when Nissan announced that they would be delaying the announcement of the 2019 longer range "eLEAF" due to the possibility of the excitement level of the car being undermined by the headlines of the arrest.

SAY WHAT?? What kind of logic is that?  Its the logic of making sure that Ghosn does not rise from the canvas.  Its the "kicking the dead horse" move rubbing Salt in the wound so the Japanese don't forget.

But let's be honest. If Nissan officials were serious about "fixing things" after this supposedly disastrous Ghosn incident, the easiest way to forget bad is to replace it with good... and the sooner the better.  But that is apparently not Nissan's plan.


  1. The Nissan LEAF always seemed to be designed for Japan. The other markets were unimportant.
    China added itself to the desirable market, but there is still no effort to make the LEAF work in areas of the US where it hasn't worked in the past. High miles or high temp just aren't where the LEAF shines.

    But what alternatives are there? A Korean Bolt or the unobtainable $35,000 Tesla?

    I hope the Audi A3 eTron actually arrives at a decent price.

    All the good EVs seem to be "a few years" in the future, and have, during the entire run of the LEAF.

    1. Yes, it does seem like the real emergence of EVs is "just around the corner" but for me who does not live in a CARB state, its even worse. We don't get half the options CARB states get... :(

  2. We don’t need them. In NJ lately every 10th Car is a Tesla.

    1. Must be nice to have room in the budget for one of those...

    2. Yes, I live in NJ and have noticed that as well. Welcome though it is, I suspect that some of those purchases are motivated by a desire to look cool rather than environmental concerns. I'm very happy with my 2019 Leaf for at least 10k less.

  3. The Prius Prime solves a lot of problems. Highly advanced, safe and economical. Oure EV for local driving.

  4. Pure EV is what I meant to type

    1. EV range of the Volt was way too short for me.

  5. Korea is kicking Japan's butt, a la Hyundai and Kia now... No real/decent BEV from Toyota or Honda.

    1. That has been the trend for over a decade now. Japanese automakers have all become "Americanized" They have lost the hunger.

    2. Based on the early successes and reviews of Hyundai's offerings in the EV market (Ioniq and Kona), I believe they have a runaway hit on their hands. Unlike you, I'm a bit reluctant to be on the bleeding edge and would like to see some initial bugs worked out of their nascent EV offerings. However, this may be a good argument for a lease. It's really a shame since my two LEAFs have been rock solid and pleasant cars to drive. The ambient-cooled battery and its associated degradation gives me pause to consider any other Nissan EV though.

    3. Initially they look good but they don't have much history. I will be back in the market in Feb 2021 so we shall see what is available then when nearly every manufacturer will have a 200+ mile EV out.

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  7. I feel you in terms of your rant Dave, but on the bright side your timing to be back in the market gives Nissan plenty of time to right their EV ship and the expected competition will give you way more good choices to consider. Charge on ☇🔌🔋😎

    1. The changes in the market were so incrementally small on my previous attempts but the next time I will have more than a dozen 200 mile+ EVs in the "affordable" category along with the still outside chance of buying my current LEAF. It will be interesting!

  8. The 2018 – 2019 Leaf is a big improvement on the first-generation version at a similar price. Admittedly I'm comparing my 2019 SL with my 2013 SV Leaf, but so far I'm seeing a silky ride, minimal battery degradation, with useful technology that makes the car easy to drive, including e – pedal, blind spot warning and auto high beam headlights. The car may not be the best choice in a very hot region, especially if you have to take long trips, but with that caveat I think Nissan has created an excellent car that can hold its own against the competition.

    1. Jonathan, I agree with you 100%. I am on my 4th LEAF and every time I was in the market, I searched out the best deal, lease or purchase. It was my intent to buy my 2011 LEAF and had the money set aside for that purpose but was talked out of it and glad I didn't. The 24 kwh LEAF never should have been made. It was simply too limiting in range.

      The 30 kwh LEAF was a big step up especially with its ability to charge full speed to 80% SOC. It made opportunity charging very effective but it was still a somewhat local driver although I went all over with mine.

      But the 40 kwh LEAF is where the range should be at a minimum. It has now become difficult to justify paying more for more range which is why I passed on the Bolt which at the time did not have favorable prices or incentives.

      But its also a question of size. I feel the LEAF is a tiny touch too small sometimes but otherwise, is perfect 99% of the time. The Model S is too big, the Bolt is too small but not overly so. The Bolt could have been a winner in my book if just a few small passenger considerations were made.

      As for my next choice? Its buy my current LEAF or get into something new. I have not decided what and need to see how my batteries hold up before I make that leap but the 40 kwh LEAF does have enough range for me to consider a purchase.