In Race To Beat Renault Zoe, Nissan Rushed LEAF Into Production In 2010 Without Critical Battery Redesign

3 years ago by Eric Loveday 55

In 2010, The Nissan LEAF Became The World's First Mass-Produced Electric Vehicle, But Did Nissan Rush It To Market?

In 2010, The Nissan LEAF Became The World’s First Mass-Produced Electric Vehicle, But Did Nissan Rush It To Market?

Renault Zoe Launched More Than One Year After Nissan LEAF

Renault Zoe Launched Nearly Two Years After Nissan LEAF

You’d think that with all the Renault-Nissan/ LG Chem news swirling around that there’s been some sort of major intel leak at The Alliance.  We’re thinking that’s the case for sure.  With all the specific info that’s come out over the last day, it must be some higher up, or now-departed higher up, who leaked the info to Reuters.

But wait, there’s more.

It seems that Renault-Nissan is crumbling within.  The Alliance has “internal rivalries” that Reuters claims led to a fault in the development of the Nissan LEAF.

Per Reuters, citing inside sources:

“Former Nissan second-in-command Carlos Tavares, racing to beat the Renault Zoe to market, cut Leaf development by a year and skipped a critical battery redesign, according to alliance veterans. Nissan later cut prices, settled a class action and offered retroactive warranties to answer customer concerns about battery deterioration.”

This critical battery redesign is definitely referring to the LEAF’s battery performance in hot conditions.  Could it be that the redesign would’ve employed liquid cooling?  Or at least some form of active air cooling?

Tavares is no longer with Renault-Nissan.

Additionally, Tavares’ rival over at Renault, Patrick Pelata, “signed a confidentiality deal with LG that meant Nissan battery engineers never even knew what they were up against.”

The Renault ZOE does not suffer from heat-related battery degradation as does the early LEAFs.

Fortunately, the internal fighting within The Alliance is now being stamped out seemingly all high level execs are exiting the company(note the several high level recent departures such as Andy Palmer (Chief Planning), Carlos Tavares (Renault boss), Billy Hayes (LEAF boss), Johan de Nysschen (Infiniti boss), etc)  by Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.

We certainly hope that, moving forward, Renault-Nissan works together to further its position as the battery-electric leaders of the world.  These internal issues that lead to a not-up-to-par Nissan LEAF need to be addressed if The Alliance is to remain the world’s frontrunner in the BEV segment.

Source: Reuters

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55 responses to "In Race To Beat Renault Zoe, Nissan Rushed LEAF Into Production In 2010 Without Critical Battery Redesign"

  1. DaveMart says:

    Ghosn said years ago that he over-ruled his engineers, who wanted more development time.

    Now we know why they wanted it.

  2. Murrysville EV says:

    Nissan had better work it out, because Tesla and BMW will smell blood in the water and take their lunch.

    My Leaf lease is up next September, and my decision to get another Leaf depends on what’s available then. If a Model 3 shows more promise, I may wait on the sidelines until a 150-mile EV is available from somebody.

  3. Taser54 says:

    Ahh, yet another example of a car rushed to production at the expense of early adopters.

    A company is only as good as its executives, because they decide what is released.

  4. Leptoquark says:

    Two thoughts:

    First, I thought these guys were all working for the same company. Sounds like not everyone was on board with that.

    Second, I’m glad the Leaf still came out when it did with the battery it had. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, etc. That the Leaf has 25% market share is more important than if it had the perfect battery or not. Those problems can be fixed, and are being fixed, from what I read.

    1. Sublime says:

      I agree, it will be at least a couple more product generations before the battery isn’t considered a consumable product. You can’t wait ’til then to get in the game.

      1. DaveMart says:

        Its only Nissan which has had a problem.
        Jumping the gun has given electric cars in general a bad name for battery degradation.

        1. EddyKilowatt says:

          I think Leafs do have a bad name for battery degradation, but only people who have read up a bit on EVs know of it.

          The average car buyer only knows “electric cars have uselessly short range”, since that is what the motoring press ceaselessly parrots about them, and “electric cars catch fire”, since Fox News turned the Volt fire into 9-11-all-over-again. Those are by far the two most common questions I get about my Leaf.

        2. JP White says:

          Compared to the LEAF, the Tesla drive-train is horribly unreliable. If you look at reliability ratings on the LEAF and the Tesla Model S the S looks terrible.

          However there is an important difference. Tesla has replaced drive-trains, sometimes multiple times in the same vehicle to keep their customers satisfied. The LEAF had a battery problem, but Nissan had to be strong armed by their customers into offering replacements.

          Both cars have teething troubles, more so the Tesla IMHO, but the Tesla has a great image with the public, not so much the LEAF.

          The LEAF in general terms is a VERY well engineered vehicle with a stellar reliability record. But all the hard work to make a great vehicle was damaged by not keeping those early adopters as happy as they could be; with help where help was indicated. The cost of not helping may be overshadowed by long term cost of negative press like this.

          When the battery issues first came up, I was amused by Jack Rickard’s comment that Nissan should be treating the early adopters well and ‘tucking them in at night’ rather than stonewall them. He referred to Nissan’s actions as corporate hara kiri. I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now.

          1. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

            Both cars have teething troubles, more so the Tesla IMHO, but the Tesla has a great image with the public, not so much the LEAF.

            In several years time, the takeaway from the Tesla drivetrain story will be “Wow, Tesla really takes care of its customers”. People will look to their luxury dealerships and say “why aren’t you treating me as well as Tesla treats their owners?” THAT is what the Germans and luxo-Japanese are afraid of.

          2. DaveMart says:

            That costs money.

            Tesla has not only never made any money, but does not plan to make any for the next ten years or so.

            It is supposed to be a growth story, with actual profits to come some time in the indefinite future.

            Until the stock market gets tired of that, it is difficult for car companies expected to make real money now to compete.

          3. Rob Stark says:

            Tesla, by and large, had Noise Vibration and Harshness issues with their drivetrain and replaced drivetrains, multiple times in some cases, as a customer service issue.

            They let customers get on the road while Tesla figured out what was wrong. In most cases it was a wire coming loose, vibrating and annoying the customer.

            The second biggest issue was a plastic cover coming loose and causing the same. A few of the 2012 had reduction gears not properly milled to spec but that was resolved by the time production really expanded in 2013.

            Long term durability is unaffected.

          4. McKemie says:

            I bought an early Leaf which Nissan failed to support, then I bought an early Tesla which Tesla has supported exceedingly well. I will not buy another Nissan. I expect to buy another Tesla. And I will continue to describe my experience to others. Nissan deserves whatever bad PR comes their way.

    2. David Murray says:

      I tend to agree. If companies waited until their products were perfect, they’d have a development cycle of 20 years. That is not reasonable.

    3. vdiv says:

      Agree. Also considering the source (Reuters) I am not sure we’re being told the whole truth. These guys are not exactly EV friendly and have loved an EV conspiracy or two in the past.

    4. pjwood says:

      Maybe they ultimately just needed a Bolt-on fix.

    5. mike w says:

      First thought – I agree
      Second thought I disagree. As an early adopter I am going to be forced to pay out some $6500 to replace the battery in my Leaf that Nissan said would last 10 years/100,000 miles. The capacity loss warranty only covers half the time/miles that Nissan advertised. They should have waited until they got the battery issues resolved.

  5. Anthony says:

    If its the case that engineers wanted an extra year for the heat-tolerant battery design, then why did that heat-tolerate battery not make it to the market until 2014? Did Nissan back-burner it for 3 years until the hot regions (Phoenix, TX, etc.) got vocal enough?

  6. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

    Man, I remember the crap Volt would take for being overengineered, with a babied battery, etc.

    I think we all know who’s gotten the last laugh.

    1. Ocean Railroader says:

      I’m amazed at how many volts have a 100,000 plus miles on them and they are selling for $17,000 dollars still.

      1. scottf200 says:

        49.9k total miles on my 2011 Volt.
        34.3k (68.7%) electric grid miles
        15.6k (31.2%) gas miles
        15.6k on the ICE in 3.5 years.
        Still getting ~45 miles on batter in the summer!

        1. DaveMart says:

          When engineering is right it is right.
          Well done GM!

          And congratulations on your fine car.

          I thought they might have reliability and maintenance problems, but they have been absolutely fine, and the complexity did not affect that.

          1. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

            I’d be curious to see a breakdown of breakdowns, that is, if there’s any difference in reliability between the mechanical bits and the electric bits. AFAIK the biggie for Volt has been an issue in some vehicles with electric drive bearing spacers which break, causing grinding noises, and whose updated part is metal.

            http://gm-volt.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-29473.html

            That said, my 2011 was pretty reliable apart from crappy Goodyear tires and a few odd freezeups/reboots of the infotainment system, and my 2013 is even more so, apart from crappy Goodyear tires. I think I’ll go for the Tesla or i3 next though, unless the next gen Volt is really compelling, I’d prefer a vehicle with more headroom.

            1. MTN Ranger says:

              At least the crappy Goodyear tires are very efficient. I changed mine out and now get 25% less range.

              1. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

                My time, patience, sanity and driving pleasure were worth the ~4mi of range loss I experienced when I swapped out my 2011 Volt’s Goodyear junk for Michelin MXV4 Primacys. Thankfully I have only had 1 tire replacement on my 2013 rather than 3, so I think I can hold off until the tires need replacing before getting Michelins (or until I trade in for newer hotness).

                Still, the Michelins were quieter, better handling, better wet traction, and a more responsive yet softer ride. I miss them.

                1. DaveMart says:

                  Your sanity?
                  If ONLY you had swapped them just that little bit earlier! 😉

      2. mike w says:

        I’m amazed that there are so many Volts out there with 100,000 miles on them and almost nobody is complaining about the batteries.

  7. Ocean Railroader says:

    The main flaw in the leaf is it’s crappy range at only 75 to 80.

    The leaf’s crappy range limits it in a lot of rural areas and suburban areas. I remember reading that the factory can build 150,000 new leafs a year. I personally don’t think it will ever get to even 25% of that with the existing leaf. If the leaf has a 200 mile range then it would reach 100,000 a year and replace the Nissan Versa.

    The Tesla I really think is starting to knock out the leaf in that I’m starting to see sightings of the Tesla go up by a great deal compared to the leaf. And this is in rural Virginia.

    1. DonC says:

      The Leaf handily outsells the Model S. Not surprising given the difference in price, but looking at units sold this is not a contest.

  8. Aaron says:

    Interesting that the i-MiEV, which hit the market 1 year before the LEAF, doesn’t have the same battery degradation problems, even without active cooling (ES model).

  9. leafer says:

    There is still no published documented fix for heat degradation on the Leaf batteries. To this day as far as anyone knows the same cells and chemistry are being placed into 2015 Leaf cars rolling off the line. A TMS is needed even if it is only used during DCFC or when plugged into L2. Such a system exists on the e-nv200 and Nissan should have added it to the Leaf at some point.

    1. ggpa says:

      “There is still no published documented fix for heat degradation on the Leaf batteries.” … Actually there is. If the battery fails, it gets replaced under warranty with the ‘lizard’ battery.

    2. DaveinOlyWA says:

      So if there is no fix for heat degradation, what are the lizard batteries for? I guess someone is missing something here

  10. Alonso Perez says:

    Is the Zoe actually sold anywhere in the World where LG could really prove it has no heat issues?

    I am not aware of Zoe being sold outside of Europe, let alone places like Arizona.

    1. zoe-driver says:

      To prove Heat: Take South-France 🙂

    2. Fernando M says:

      Sold in Spain, 1 year in Madrid 20.000 km, no degradation, 22,5 kWh USABLE.

  11. GeorgeS says:

    I’ve been searching to find out if the Zoe has a cooled battery.

    Does anyone know?

    Closest I’ve come up with is it may be air cooled w/ the air being cooled by a heat pump.

    1. GeorgeS says:

      I answered my own question.

      The e-NV200 has refrigerant (not air) plumbed to the battery pack and has a miniature ref’r system inside the pack.

      Pretty obvious to me that this same cooling scheme will be used in the next gen Leaf.

      http://transportevolved.com/2014/06/12/nissan-e-nv200-show-change-policy-battery-heating-cooling/

      1. DaveMart says:

        Good find, George, but I don’t think that it can be assumed that the next generation Leaf will use the same system.

        As they say in the article the battery is more tightly packed and may be fast charged more often in the van, but also if Nissan do switch to the LG Chem battery pack it may do better in hot temperatures anyway.

        Or not.

        But either way the engineers match up the cooling system to the exact chemistry and load.

        The recently released E-Up and E-Golf use different cooling, even though presumably they are both the same chemistry from Panasonic.

        Cooling appears to be very much a bespoke affair.

      2. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

        Next gen ‘Leaf’ needs to be Altima-sized with properly-managed battery and 40kWh usable. Preferably available as a CUV or tall hatch/wagon. Not quite so frog-like.

        1. Alonso Perez says:

          Nah, I like the current size just fine. The styling could certainly improve -the Zoe is much nicer looking-, but I would like it to be recognizable as a Leaf. The car should not be taller, this just gets you more drag and less range. A bit longer, which would help with drag, sure.

          A 40 kWh battery would be awesome but anything above 32 kWh would be a real improvement. The Leaf is just short of the range of a bunch of weekend out and return trips I can think of. Just a few days ago I was looking at a 42.4 mile distance (85 mile round trip), with about half on highway, that would be a struggle on a current Leaf. No charger at the destination. A 32 or 34 kWh Leaf would have no problem with that kind of trip. It would be a sweet spot for no-frills EVs.

          Even better, Nissan could offer two battery sizes, perhaps a 30 and 40.

          1. Anon says:

            *nods* Consumer choice is always a great thing to offer…

    2. Fernando M says:

      The A/C system has a heat pump in order for the battery pack to maintain a constant temperature between 15° and 30°C

      http://foroev.com/index.php?topic=1260.0

  12. leafer says:

    “There is still no published documented fix for heat degradation on the Leaf batteries.” … Actually there is. If the battery fails, it gets replaced under warranty with the ‘lizard’ battery.

    Actually this isn’t a fix , and it doesn’t do me much good, I have lost 2 bars and much usable range but will not have enough loss to get a replacement by 60k. I do however suffer from the lower value of my car , and the lack of usable range caused by heat induced degradation that could be prevented with a proper active TMS.

    1. RedLeafBlueLeaf says:

      Agree that this is no published, documented fix. Nissan has been extremely quiet about it except to say that the 2015 has a heat-resistant battery.

      However, we know a few things which suggest that the heat-resistant battery may have been introduced in 2013. First, 2011-2012 LEAFs which get a battery replacement require a special harness to adapt them to the new battery, but 2013 and later do not. Second, in September 2012 we had a boatload of data on 2011 and 2012 LEAFs losing battery capacity bars prematurely in hot climates. Now in September 2014 we don’t have that kind of data on 2013s and 2014s – in fact the reports we do have from hot climates suggest their batteries are degrading at a normal rate.

      Third, Nissan removed the cautions against frequent quick charging for the 2013 LEAF and removed the 80% “long life mode” from the 2014. I know most of us speculated that this was done to bump up the EPA rating, but it was almost certainly done only after they’d verified that 80% charging had negligible benefit on the 2013 and later battery.

      So why has Nissan been so quiet about all this? Well, this article suggests why. There is a probably a trail of paperwork within Nissan suggesting that the problems with the 2011-12 batteries was well known at the time. If this information were known before the class action lawsuit was settled (and that isn’t actually a done deal yet) then the cost to Nissan would likely have been much higher. Instead of a battery replacement program only for the worst affected batteries it might have applied to all 2011 and 2012 LEAFs, since those batteries were known to be sub-optimal and not likely to last as long as Nissan stated in 2011 documentation.

      Not a great story for Nissan.

  13. Stuart22 says:

    That Nissan rushed the LEAF into production has long been figured done.

    http://insideevs.com/nissan-to-az-leaf-owners-46-miles-of-range-is-normal/#comment-10798

    I still think it was the Volt, however. Ghosn’s ego demanded the LEAF be the first, and it was the Volt, not the Zoe, which challenged that desire.

    1. Brian says:

      This is what I’ve always said. But I believe that the MY13 Leaf is what Nissan’s engineers really wanted to release. The management forced them to release 2 years early, and ended up with an off-the-shelf charger shoved in the trunk (among other things)

  14. mhpr262 says:

    really stupid move of Nissan to sell the LEAF without some cooling. The battery seems to suffer only in extreme situations, like when it gets hot from repeated quick charging and then the battery is left to steam in its super insulated casing and stays hot for days. It would probably have been perfectly sufficient to simply blow some already cooled air from the inside of the car into an opening of the battery pack to create at least minimal heat dissipation.

  15. evnow says:

    So some anonymously sourced piece is now presented as fact ?

  16. DonC says:

    I think it was fairly clear the Leaf was rushed, but I think it was more to beat the Volt than the Zoe. Somewhat doubtful it was Tavares. I think it was Ghosn. Does anything major happen at Nissan without Ghosn signing off?

    Wasn’t necessarily a bad plan. The car isn’t a quality product, and the battery isn’t ready for prime time, but overall the Leaf has proven to be reliable and the price is low.

    I think this is just Ghosn PR so he can blame the departed when Nissan takes the hit on the write-offs.

    1. ggpa says:

      DonC et al …

      The 2015 Leaf currently on sale is basically the same as the 2013 Leaf, and the technology matches all the other cheap EVs.

      So I read a bunch of comments here about the Leaf from people who seem to forget that
      – the Leaf is still the most successful EV to date
      – even the brand new market entries use very similar technology

      So maybe the 2011/2 Leafs were not totally perfect, but Nissan is standing behind them, so the owners are not losing out.

      1. DonC says:

        I did point out that the Leaf handily outsells the Model S and that rushing the Leaf wasn’t necessarily a bad strategy. I don’t think I’ve forgotten its successes.

        Don’t agree at all that Nissan is standing behind the batteries. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        The reason I think Ghosn is engaged in revisionist history is that if the battery investment has to be written off, he’ll need to find someone to blame.

      2. McKemie says:

        Nissan DID NOT stand behind the faulty batteries. In fact they denied the degradation was abnormal.

  17. Cavaron says:

    To be fair to Nissan:
    Renault had the Fluence EV long bevore the Zoe – it almost came out together with the Leaf. And the Fluence batteries are crappy too. At least they are only rented and the owners get new packs (modern cells this time, but same range as thenold ones) after range dropped below 75%.

    So it is not like Renault waited with EVs to perfect the design. They learned their lessons with the Fluence like Nissan did with the first Leaf.

  18. McKemie says:

    Great information, thanks for an informative article. It is understandable that Nissan rushed the product to market. It is not understandable that Nissan failed to fix their mistake. My 2010 Leaf, in Texas, went from a range of about 100 miles to barely 60 miles in less than two years. It was towed in twice with a depleted battery. With each complaint, Nissan claimed the battery was “fine” and refused to fix it. Rather than endure the pain of dealing with Nissan, I bought a Tesla and sold the Leaf. Tesla has given me excellent service. I will never buy another Nissan though I am shopping for a ~100 mile EV.

  19. EV_Pilot says:

    The “girl in the black Honda” was right! She was the original whistle blower over at Nissan on this issue (and others)… and there is more to the story at Nissan – just read her blog, it all jives. Makes my stomach turn. I don’t know the internals of too many car companies, but Nissan has got to be the worst offender of them all. It’s got like a 100 year old, proud Japanese history, and now it’s all ruined with cover-up’s and scandals. Good reporting here on inside EV’s, these frauds need to be exposed, keep up the great work!