You might think that Nissan, the first car manufacturer to have widespread success with a zero-emission electric vehicle, cares deeply about the environment. But Clayton Brander is not so sure.
Three years ago, the Powell River, BC resident opted to buy a used Nissan Leaf 2013, motivated by a strong interest in sustainability.
“I love the car,” he said. “Honestly, in three years and 40,000 kilometers, I changed a set of tires and windshield wiper fluid. Nothing breaks. It’s a fantastic little vehicle. I think electric vehicles are the way to go.”
But nowadays, instead of being able to drive the 120 km that the 2013 Leafs could initially go with at full load, Brander cannot go much more than 80 km. He was even hesitant to turn on the window heater or defroster, as using these features requires battery power and will further reduce your driving range.
Brander has always known that batteries lose capacity over time and realized that it would not be a problem to get a new one.
“The dealership where I bought the car said that in a few years, you can replace the battery for about $ 5,000,” said Brander.
But now, he can’t find one. He tried two nearby Nissan dealerships, three local workshops, and contacted Nissan Canada.
“Nissan didn’t help. I probably sent them six emails,” said Brander. “They keep telling me to go to the dealership. I called my local dealership and they sent emails to Nissan Canada. Six weeks later, none of us got an answer.”
Both dealerships told him that a new battery – if he can find one – can cost at least $ 15,000, which would be more than what he paid for the vehicle in the first place.
WATCH | Brander’s struggle to replace his car battery:
Your local dealership encouraged you to solve the problem by simply buying a new Nissan Leaf. The 2020 base model costs $ 42,000 and can travel about 240 km on a full charge. This suggestion does not seem very sustainable for Brander.
“It looks like these things will end up in the landfill,” he said. “It makes more financial sense to them, I imagine, to sell new cars than to maintain old cars.”
Collective action in the USA
The Nissan Leaf has long been the best-selling electric vehicle in the world, surpassed for the first time in 2020 by the Tesla Model S, according to Nissan and Tesla’s own figures.
Olivier Trescases, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Center, said Nissan deserves credit for being a pioneer.
“They were one of the first to launch an attractive electric vehicle with a reasonable range and, most importantly, a low price,” he said.
But he added that one of the design “commitments” that Nissan initially made to keep production costs low was not to install an advanced cooling system for the batteries. “They were using chemistry that was particularly sensitive to temperature and did not use expensive liquid refrigeration.”
This means that the battery capacity is reduced more quickly. In 2012, Leaf owners in California and Arizona filed for a class action claiming that the car’s range was less than advertised.
The company solved the process and extended the battery capacity warranty to five years on models manufactured after 2013. Later, Nissan extended the warranty to eight years on models manufactured after 2016.
Likewise, a battery replacement program for first generation Leafs was launched in the United States. A new one cost $ 5,499 in the United States, plus labor, but the program was discontinued in early 2018.
Where’s the loyalty?
After an investigation into the situation of Clayton Brander of the CBC Go Public team, Nissan declined an interview, but released an e-mailed statement. The company said Nissan Canada will conduct an inspection of the Brander vehicle and is “hopeful of finding a solution”.
Contacted by phone, the head of corporate communications for Nissan Canada did not clarify whether that meant they would find him a new battery or at what price.
The statement also pointed to Leaf’s environmental impact, saying that owners around the world drove 4.8 billion kilometers and helped prevent “more than 2.4 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions.”
Trescases believes that Nissan should show more loyalty to its first customers. “Some of those early users helped them get the car on the market, get some acceptance and go from there.”
Nissan Canada says more than 3,300 Canadians bought Leafs built before 2015.
Trescases said the challenge of replacing batteries in older electric cars should not discourage buyers of newer models, explaining that the newer EV batteries are incredibly efficient.
“Today, companies are talking about millions of mile batteries,” he said. “That’s a big buzzword, but let’s say they get close to that – it means that the battery will actually survive the car for a long time.”
Last year, Nissan began powering lampposts in Japan and at a stadium in the Netherlands with car batteries that are no longer in use.
Keep the car on the road
At just seven years old, the Brander’s Leaf is newer than most cars on Canada’s roads, where the average vehicle is 10 years old. (In BC, the average is 11)
He remains determined to maintain the vehicle, preferably with a new battery. He is happy that Nissan Canada finally contacted him after the CBC News investigation, but he is puzzled why the company says the vehicle needs to be tested. He said he already paid $ 130 for a battery test at a local dealership.
“The fact that I don’t get enough autonomy from this is all it takes to determine that I need a new battery,” he said.
He would like to see Nissan show some loyalty to its most loyal fans, helping to keep the cars on the road as much as possible.
“They got all the accolades for introducing electric vehicles to the masses, so it looks pretty good,” he said.
“But they are losing them now because they don’t support these older models and just boost sales of new vehicles, instead of saying, ‘Look, we can still keep them out of the landfill.'”