When Fredrik Gnosspelius first got in touch with us, he was outraged about the NissanConnect EV app. According to him, it was a marketing scandal that Nissan promised to deliver something it is not able to. It assures, for example, that the app will work. And it doesn’t. Not only according to Gnosspelius, but also to most of the Leaf owners we spoke. From all over the world.
Gallery: The Nissan Leaf Has An Issue With Its App: It Does Not Work
We have checked the app's Google Play score, and it is quite eloquent. NissanConnect EV only has 1.5 stars of the possible 5. People there complain of the same things that bother Gnosspelius: log in difficulties, requests that do not get executed, and impossibility to check the car status. In short, it is a communication app that does not communicate with the car. Or does that in an inadequate way despite what Nissan says it does.
“I bought a Nissan Leaf about two months ago for around €40,000. It is a huge amount of money for my family – we’re five – in the belief that Nissan was the best choice. We are so annoyed with Nissan’s 'remote function app' and how it handles us as customers,” the Swedish Leaf owner told InsideEVs. He was kind enough to shoot the video above and show us his experience with the app.
“They know about the problem for many years, and still they promote it as ‘Take full control of your car!’ So I started a ‘Join me in complaining against Nissan club.’ It is fighting Goliath. Nissan’s Swedish Facebook page has now got more the 100 comments in a few days, and they all say the same: It does not work!”
Not only Nissan's Swedish page. There are complaints about the app in Germany, the US, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. The video above is from Stefano Elidori, from Italy. It shows how hard it is to deal with the app there. We have found a few other videos that will be embedded in this article to give you an idea of how things are.
Although we have not checked all countries where the Leaf is sold, it is clear the problem is widespread. Ask any Leaf owner. We talked to them in Portugal, for example.
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“I have the issues of what you could expect from a badly-designed app. It makes it too slow and impossible to use,” José Pedro told InsideEVs. And he is not alone.
“I use the app, or else, I used to have it. It is extremely slow when it decides to work, and it asks for login multiple times in a row. I personally prefer third-party apps, such as ‘My Leaf.’ It is slightly faster but not much more because it relies on Nissan's servers. It lacks interesting functions. They have even suppressed the ‘find my car’ option, which was very handy in parking lots,” Frederico Matias told InsideEVs.
The video above was made in the UK in January 2018 by Ryan, presenter of the EV Opinion YouTube channel. The video shows how much time the app takes to work, even if Ryan's experience is not so bad as the ones reported by other app users.
The issues are particularly important in countries with colder climates, such as Canada. “I've found the connection between the app and the server to be very inconsistent. At best, it takes several attempts to get current battery status, and each attempt can take over a minute to complete, Chris Bala told InsideEVs. “Commands like lock/unlock or climate start look like they work in the app, but the car often doesn't receive the message.”
As Gnosspelius let us know from the start, Sweden also complains a lot about the issues. “Here you have five months of cold weather where you get ice on your windows. In diesel cars, we have a Webasto heater, which we activate remotely 15 minutes before departure. So you come to a warm car with clear windows. When I bought the Leaf, the app was one of the reasons. I should not have to start the day cleaning the windows five minutes before I can leave,” Mikael Lundberg told InsideEVs.
“If I preheat with the app, the heater does not take energy from the battery but rather from the power cord. In the winter, you need all the energy in your battery for the driving, not to heat the car.”
Glen Ivarsson reports a similar frustration. “Trying to log in for the first time took three months. No one could help us, and we tried four dealers. We have had our car for eleven months and probably just used the app ten times. We just gave up. Where we live, many night temperatures go below freezing. Preheating is needed to be able to use our car before commuting to work. So it’s disappointing when we need grid heating, and it won’t even connect.”
Lundberg names other problems the app causes besides lack of proper heating. “You can't check the status of the battery if you can't reach the car. It could be that my wife has used it and parked it without charging it. Will I be able to reach my destination, or do I need to plan for a charging stop before that?” We'd ask something else: will he have time to do so?
If the app does not work, you can face tough situations, such as the one Martin Åkerman endured with his 3-year-old girl. “I took her to the hospital for some blood tests. I parked at the dedicated EV parking spot and connected it to the charging station. The temperature outside was around 2ºC, and you could really feel that autumn was taking hold.”
Problems started when they left the hospital. “My daughter and I started to walk back. I repeatedly tried to connect to the car and start the preheating so that my daughter would not have to freeze.”
“But during the 15-minute walk, I never once got a confirmed connection to the car. Only four messages stating ‘something when wrong, please try again.’ This took place in a city area with full 4G coverage. I had no problem to connect to the charging station to monitor the charging process,” said Åkerman.
“Upon arriving, I found that the preheating had started, but the app was still in an ‘Updating please wait’ mode. You could argue that this is a minor thing. However, the sense of lacking functionality security is frankly unworthy of a car in this price range.”
Åkerman makes a strong point. “Winter is coming. In my part of Sweden, that means temperatures well below freezing from December to Mars. To have a car that you can’t trust... Maybe worse than that: a manufacturer that seems to be incompetent at best or unwilling at worst to address known problems in those conditions is just bad.”
The electric car experience is deeply related to connectivity, and Nissan has not given that part the attention it deserves. That is probably one of the strongest explanations for disappointing sales of the second-generation car. Nissan may not believe it, but the app can make people give up buying the Leaf. Such as Lundberg.
“My next car will not be a Nissan unless they fix the app. Later tonight I advised one of my friends to buy another vehicle. I know that he has small kids, and it's important for him to enter a warm car with his children.”
The lousy connectivity is not only a problem of comfort and, in cold climates, of safety. It may also prevent you from even driving the Leaf. “My app has not updated the battery status since September 29. A few days ago, I started the heater from the app about 15 minutes before I was going to leave since it was cold outside. The car was cold when I drove off. After the drive, when I was already home for about 30 minutes, the heater started…” Niklas Landfeldt told InsideEVs.
“When preheating works, the heating can begin up to one hour after you have pushed the button. If you are unlucky and your car is not connected to 220V, heating will drain your battery while parked. This is really serious!” Gnosspelius told InsideEVs.
Besides getting in touch with us, Gnosspelius and other customers are asking the Swedish government for help. Four of them would have already filed suit at the Swedish Consumer Court. One of them is Sven Nilsson.
“Customer service responds in a way that seems nonchalant. Instead of answering the e-mail message, they give you instructions and advice. The response is experienced as automatic when we feel they do not care what we have written,” Nilsson told InsideEVs.
The standard recommendation from Nissan is to reinstall the app as if the problem was on smartphones. It is not.
“From what I have understood, the app communicates via SMS and only checks one parameter in each SMS. Their servers are too slow to send out and receiving. It requires four SMS for each activity. Your request, request to the car, the response from car, SMS to you,” Gnosspelius said.
Linus Corin thought this was official. “The information about it using text message/GSM for communication comes from Nissan. I've seen it quoted from their customer support, as well as in various internet forums. I'm sure Nissan could confirm this.” We have asked Nissan, but it has not confirmed anything about how the app works.
Corin is a Leaf owner that decided to grab this bull by the horns. As a developer, he bypassed Nissan’s system with a solution of his own. “To get around this, I wrote my own web-based application.”
Corin tells us how it works. “It talks directly to the Nissan API servers and allows me to turn on the climate control using a single button press. It is the way Nissan should have designed it from the start. I also have a scheduled job that regularly queries the Nissan API to find the charge level. That means that I see exactly how long it takes to get this information, and how often it just completely times out.”
Being a developer himself, Corin knows a lot about the NissanConnect EV. “In my opinion, open APIs will keep getting more important. Nissan has a closed API, but luckily it hasn't been too difficult to reverse engineer. The problem is that Nissan frequently makes changes to it, and third-party developers have to reverse engineer the changes and update their code to work with the new API.”
Nissan could start the changes from that point, according to Corin. “More and more people will expect to be able just to say ‘Hey Google’ – or Alexa, Siri, Bixby, whatever – and find out the charge level or start heating their car. For these services, an open API is essential. I'd love to have the charge level and an easy way of starting the heater from my smartwatch, but I can't.”
He proposes other modifications to the NissanConnect EV. “If I designed the app, then I would allow the user to send commands without first having to wait for the app to load data. That would make a big difference to the end-user experience since they could just go into the app and click to start the heating straight away. This redesign wouldn't fix the poor performance or reliability issues, but it would definitely have the potential to smooth out those issues.”
“It could also be made to seamlessly retry commands if they don't work the first time. My own system keeps retrying status updates. I will need to do the same with turning on heating because it only works about 1/3 of the time, currently. There could also be massive performance improvements by more intelligently pulling data from the car and caching it in Nissan's servers,” Corin told InsideEVs.
What about Nissan?
We have contacted Nissan about these issues. The company’s official reply follows below:
“We have used customer feedback to enhance the functionality of and added features to the NissanConnect EV app. Some of the app’s features are subject to GPS and wireless network availability and connection, and system/technology limitations.
If customers experience problems, they can contact NissanConnect EV Customer Support Specialists at (877) NO GAS EV, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Central Time.”
This is more or less the same response Leaf owners like Gnosspelius are getting ever since they started to use the app. Not only from the customer services but from a much larger pay scale.
“Last Saturday, the Swedish communication responsible for Nissan, Alexandra Österplan, contacted me with an e-mail message: ‘Thank you for your work with this question. We know that the app does not live up to our customers’ expectations, etc.’ With that was a copy of a letter that she would send to all Swedish retailers,” Gnosspelius told InsideEvs.
“It said that right now they are having problems with their app and that update work is going on. It also had instructions on how to set preheating at a fixed time via the car interface. They would post it on their Facebook page. I have note seen the posting so far.”
Lundberg also waits for more effective actions. “I've been in contact with Nissan 10 to 15 times regarding this problem. Most answers from the customer support were that it must have been a tempory problem except for two of them.”
He received the same instruction over and over: "‘Try to restart your phone, and then the connection will work again.’ I've done this several times, but since the problem is not on the phone, it did not help, of course .”
The two different answers he received among all these attempts were more candid. “They said they are aware of the problem and working on a solution. Last spring, they did release a new version of the app in which they stated that the problem was fixed.” But was it?
“The app worked better during the summer, but mainly due to fewer people using it. Now, when it's getting colder, people use the preheating, and the system crashes. You come out to a cold car with ice on your windows instead of a warm car. The app does not work. This week, it worked only one morning out of five.”
Leaf clients are getting tired of waiting for improvements. “The next time we buy a new car, I will definitely do some research into how well the related digital services worK. That will be a big factor in decision making. Digital services are often seen as an unimportant gimmick by the automaker,” Corin told InsideEvs.
“To the end-user, though, the software part of the product is often at least as important as the hardware. Car manufacturers need to start treating app development as an integral part of their product development.”
Bala agrees. “I come from a corporate software development background. I can somewhat appreciate the legacy cost of supporting older tech in Gen 1 Leafs. Anyway, people today have much greater expectations for what ‘connected’ means than they would have when the first Leaf launched. It's natural – if a bit unfair – for them to compare the connectivity to what Tesla owners enjoy.”
This Canadian Leaf owner also has his suggestions to make the app work. “Something as simple as adding a Wi-Fi module to Gen 2 Leafs that would allow the app to communicate directly with the car, at home, would have greatly improved customer satisfaction.”
Corin has another one. “Feel free to give Nissan my details if they need a competent consultant who can help them resolve it.” Your call, Nissan.
We apologize to all the owners we have spoken to and did not manage to include in this article. They are many and we could just mention their names, but that would possibly bore our readers. We're also sorry for repeating these pictures so many times along the text, but that was on purpose.
Pick a language. These are the screens you will see more often with the app, asking you to "please wait". When things go right. When they go wrong, you'll just get an error message. Imagine you are the Leaf owner in question. Gnosspelius. Bala. Corin. Pedro. Matias. Elidori. Åkerman. Nilsson. With your kids on a cold winter day. Would you wait? These guys have, but perhaps for too long.
Nissan, whatever you choose to do, just get your app voluntarily fixed. It would be better than have Sweden and other consumer courts decide to take a more effective line of action in your place.