In September 2016 I bought a brand-new Nissan Leaf SV with the new 25% bigger battery (30 kWh) This page will keep track of ongoing data, modifications, observations, and such.
A Brief History of the Leaf
The Nissan Leaf is currently in its third minor revision. If you find yourself interested in acquiring one, the right choice depends on your driving requirements and your financial situation. Here’s a quick summary of what happened in each model year:
- 2011-2012: The first generation came out. Battery capacity was 24 kWh, but this first version was known to be a bit delicate. Heat, age, and heavy use mean that the batteries in this generation are a mixed lot. The battery came with a 5 year/60,000 mile warranty, and you’ll find some on the market that have been upgraded with new batteries. The EPA range estimate was only 73 miles, early drivers reported 80-90. At this point, you can probably expect 70-80 miles per charge on an original generation Leaf (less at speeds over 60 MPH)
- 2013: The car received about 100 upgrades for the model year. Most notable for me were some battery improvements, a more efficient heating/cooling system, and more trunk space since they cleaned up the layout somewhat. EPA range jumped to 87 miles.
- 2015: A new battery chemistry known as “the lizard battery” comes out – designed to be more resistant to heat. This should be significant, because many of the earlier Leaf battery problems occurred in places like Phoenix, Arizona with extremely hot weather, or in drivers who had a particularly intense driving cycle (long, high-speed drives and rapid charging tend to heat up the battery).
- 2016: a new 30kWh battery was added for the more upscale SV and SL trims. The 25% larger capacity should improve both range and lifespan, since you are now using a smaller percentage of the battery’s energy for any given drive. As of Late 2016, you can also get the bigger battery in the S model – an ideal change if your goal is to minimize cost.
Current Status and Stories:
December 2016: As the fall and winter came, I started seeing lower range on my car, which is normal in cold temperatures.
But I wondered if mine was worse than average, because in summer it could easily do 110 miles on the highway, whereas at 15 degrees F I ran out of juice after only 78 miles (I stubbornly ignored the low battery warning and actually ran flat while waiting at an intersection. Had to call the slow-but-free Nissan towing service to get the remaining 8 miles home.)
So I did a bunch of testing at different temperatures, comparisons to other new Leafs, etc.
Final Diagnosis: I think my car is just fine after all – as the temperatures have risen, the car’s maximum range has gone back up. But the car really should have a battery heater like GM and Tesla electric cars do, which would boost winter range drastically.
Also, while Nissan had a good heart in trying to support me in the investigation, I found that very few people higher up in the company know anything about electric cars. Even with the high profile of this blog and frequent reposting of my earlier article by the MarketWatch newspaper, I wasn’t able to talk to a single Nissan engineer to find my technical answers.
This is a notable contrast to Tesla, where people who work on the cars and the Supercharger network actually read these articles and send me emails proactively. A great practice for reaching your true fans – hint, hint. So if I were to buy another brand-new electric car in the future, I’d choose a Tesla 3 instead of another Nissan Leaf.
On the other hand, used Leafs are incredibly affordable and they are everywhere. Still a great car year-round and if you have a gas-powered commute, you owe it to yourself to test drive one of these things.
It’s a night and day difference in how pleasant and fun the driving experience can be. Gas cars are so doomed.
Here’s the story, now only for the interest of fellow techies, in case other people see the same thing.
- Using a phone app called “Leaf Spy Pro” app on my phone, I take periodic recordings of the car’s battery condition, which is called State of Health or SOH. On the day I bought the car, it was reporting 99%. But within 1 month (under 1000 miles), this estimate had dropped to 89%. Was it a software bug or a defective battery? Here’s what that looks like:
Future Projects and Ideas:
I have a few plans in store for this car, including
- Building a simple off-grid “solar carport” that allows the car to charge automatically whenever the sun shines. While also protecting the car from the sun. (Goal changed – I have built a much bigger on-grid system instead).
- Testing the car’s maximum range under ideal conditions (I am hoping it can exceed 150 miles on one charge)
- Using the Leaf for a bit of Uber/Lyft Driving, for fun and to see how the cost/benefit analysis works out (this project has not been ongoing since October)
- Trying a longer road trip with quick-charging stations along the way.
- If possible, tapping directly into the battery so the power can be used to power a house (and recharge from solar panels) much like a Tesla Powerwall. If you have experience with how to do this, please get in touch
- Monitoring battery life and efficiency as the car gets older.
- Eventually, learning about aftermarket battery upgrades. (In theory, you should be able to swap out the battery and put in one with double the capacity as battery tech improves. But it will only happen if there’s a market for it and some company rises to the challenge).