By Darryl Siry
Like many, I waited with great anticipation for Nissan (OTC:NSANY) to unveil its electric car. Nissan has been the most outspoken of the majors in favor of electric vehicles and seem committed to the mass commercialization of EVs as a major thrust of its strategy. In addition to the car itself, Nissan has invested a lot of effort reaching out to utilities to prepare the ground for the infrastructure that will aid the adoption of electric vehicles.
So with all this careful preparation and with the very large bet they are placing on EVs, why did Nissan make such a major and avoidable mistake in how they are communicating the true range of its vehicle, the Leaf? This is a mistake that is sure to haunt Nissan when it actually brings the vehicle to market, and could have a negative impact on EV adoption in general.
The issue is one I have written about previously – the EPA range figures that are typically communicated by most EV manufacturers overstate the true range of the vehicle in daily use. That means that consumers who buy the car are bound to be disappointed when the range they experience is significantly less than what they have been told by the manufacturer.
In my analysis, I point out that the EPA combined (a mix of city and highway numbers) number that an EV will post when tested with a new battery is more like an upper limit of the range you will experience. Unfortunately, Nissan has upped the ante of exaggerating the realistic range of their vehicle by using the LA4 cycle as the single number they quote, which is the same as what we refer to as "EPA City", or "UDDS" driving cycle. As you can see below, this test cycle assumes an average driving speed of 19.59 mph and in the 22 minute driving cycle, it assumes you only break 40 mph once, for about 100 seconds, and never exceed about 58 mph.
The bottom line here is that Nissan needs to recognize this mistake and immediately start communicating a more realistic range expectation for its car. If it does not, it is taking an enormous gamble with a multi-billion dollar investment. There is no doubt in my mind that if Nissan sticks to its "100 mile" number, consumers will be very disappointed in their purchase and the disparity between claimed and actual range will become immediately and widely heard on the internet. This issue is particularly important for Nissan because it is trying to bring the EV to the mainstream, and mainstream customers are less likely to just grin and bear it as early adopters might.
Specifically, Nissan should disclose what the range of the Leaf is under the US06 driving cycle, which more closely resembles highway driving that is very common in the U.S.
In the meantime, journalists reporting on the Leaf should take care to note that the claimed 100 mile range is on the city cycle, which is optimistic. Of the dozen or so articles I read today, only three were clear about that. In the future, as the marketing engine gears up, most of what you will see published will just echo what Nissan is saying.
Disclosure: CODA Automotive, an EV Manufacturer which plans to bring an all-electric sedan to market in 2010, is a client of mine. This blog is representative of my independent opinions on this issue, and not necessarily the perspective of CODA. CODA typically communicates the anticipated range of its vehicle by using two numbers, the US06 cycle on the low end (90 miles), and the UDDS cycle on the high end (120 miles). When the situation calls for a simpler sound bite, CODA has typically said "about 100 miles." For the purpose of comparison, CODA's battery capacity is currently 33.8 kWh, compared to Nissan's stated capacity of 24 kWh.