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Nissan rolls out new software to fix battery problem found by Kiwis

Replacing the battery of a Nissan Leaf can cost around $9000. Photo / Getty Images

Car maker Nissan has issued new computer software to fix a problem, uncovered by a group of New Zealand citizen scientists, that affects the world’s best-selling electric car - the Nissan Leaf.

After months of testing and consultation with engineers in Japan, Nissan confirmed a fault that saw many owners of the high-capacity 30kWh (kilowatt hour) Nissan Leaf report rapid deterioration in the health of their car battery.

The issue was first flagged in March when researchers and electric vehicle enthusiasts from volunteer organisation Flip the Fleet published a paper claiming that the 30kWh Leaf’s battery state of health, a crucial indicator of battery performance and therefore potential driving range, was degrading up to three times faster than the lower capacity 24kWh battery model at around two years of age.

The researchers were concerned that the problem may have been with the battery itself, a particular concern for New Zealand owners of the 30kWh Leaf who have mainly bought the cars through secondhand importers because they were not offered new or used through Nissan itself.

Problem identified

Instead, the problem relates to first-generation models of the 30kWh Leaf and its software-powered lithium-ion battery controller, which was incorrectly displaying battery capacity and range, Nissan claims.

“Driving range displayed on the vehicle instruments on the first generation 30kWh LEAF is lower than the actual range,” Nissan New Zealand managing director John Manley wrote in a memo to vehicle industry bodies yesterday.

“Nissan New Zealand has been provided with the new software to update the software parameters and provide an accurate representation of the capacity and range,” he added.

That will come as a relief to Leaf owners who have had to negotiate with car dealers and invoke their rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act, with varying degrees of success, to have their battery capacity issues addressed.

“This is the best outcome possible because the firmware is cheaper to repair than the batteries themselves – so Flip the Fleet’s alarm bell was not as serious as it could have been,” said Flip the Fleet’s co-founder, University of Otago emeritus professor Henrik Moller.

Henrik Moller and Dima Ivanov, the founders of Flip The Fleet with a Nissan Leaf. Photo / supplied

Manley recommended that 30kWh Leaf owners concerned about degraded battery capacity book an appointment with a Leaf-certified Nissan dealer to have new software installed to “correct the calculation for the driving range and lithium-ion battery capacity gauge”.

A fix is available - but it'll cost you

But there will be a sting in the tail for Leaf owners seeking the upgrade - because the Leafs were not offered new in New Zealand through Nissan dealerships, Nissan will charge imported Leaf owners $115 for it.

“In our view, this is yet another example of the risks associated with relying on cheap second-hand imports of all sorts, but perhaps especially for new technology like electric vehicles,” said Moller.

Nissan plans to resume local sales of the Leaf in the next year and a 40kWh Leaf offering a range of up to 300km on a single charge, is starting to appear here as a parallel import.

With the Government aiming to have 64,000 electric vehicles on the road by the end of 2021, better access to a wider range of new electric car models including the Nissan Leaf, was a necessity, said Moller.

“In the absence of making manufacturers take responsibility for grey imports, sustained EV uptake needs importation of new models through the front door, not relying on other peoples cast offs through a side door.”

Flip the Fleet’s research went global after it was published online, leading many Leaf owners overseas to report similar experiences to those documented in the citizen science study, which examined 283 Leafs, 82 of which had the 30kWh battery.

Moller and his team were able to analyse data obtained from each Leaf’s onboard battery console, which was uploaded to Flip the Fleet by Leaf owners around the country.

In June, US electric vehicle industry publication InsideEV reported that Nissan was making a software upgrade available for 2016 - 2017, 30kWh Leaf owners in the US. That was in direct response to the issue raised by the New Zealand team of researchers in March.

But the battery measurement issue is less serious for US owners of Leafs bought new, as they are covered by new car warranties.

Will it work, ask owners

Still, Leaf owners discussing the battery issue and its new software fix speculated whether a digital fix was enough to eliminate Nissan’s battery headache.

Wrote InsideEV commenter David Murray: “I remain extremely sceptical. But I do hope that they are telling the truth. I’ll be curious to see a few 30KW owners actually experiment with this and see if it really makes any difference.”

Visit www.flipthefleet.org for more information and advice for Leaf owners.