In an arena when the first production electric car hits the market with minimal infrastructure and limited inventory, any glitch found in the early product offering is going to make headlines fast.
In the case of the Nissan Leaf, the first of these issues has reared its head. It seems that 3 percent of the 452 current owners have experienced a failure to start their Leaf when the start button is pushed (with brake depressed).
As one of those rare owners, I too have experienced this odd phenomenon – only once. It was so unusual, in fact, that I ignored it, thinking it was probably a "user error." I was leaving a grocery store, applied the brake, pushed the on/off switch and, although the usual lights came up, I didn't hear that familiar "computer start sound." Not yet in driving mode, I had every reason to believe my very silent motor was on at that point. Much to my surprise, when I tried to release the parking brake and engage the reverse gear, nothing happened, I immediately looked up and studied the dash to see a square, red battery icon had appeared. I then hit the brake, turned the starter/off switch, and the light went off. With a skip of my heart, I went through the process again, and that time, much to my relief, everything worked just fine.
It wasn't until I read the articles about the glitch that I that's what had happened to me. To date, I have heard nothing from Nissan or my dealer, and I am concerned that this might happen again at a much more inopportune moment – and then fail to work after I try again.
Early adopters like myself not only get to experience the joy of new technology, we must accept the disappointment of bugs in the system. But for Nissan, with the microscope of the press waiting to see the hazards of electric living, it can be a public relations nightmare waiting to happen.
Nissan's response has been a software fix, stating that it believes the glitch is related to the air conditioning systems. It has issued a "service campaign" rather than a formal recall. A Nissan spokesperson has also been reported to say that the problem "is not a safety issue as the vehicle will not stop running while being driven, but may not restart once it is turned off."
It's also been reported that Nissan is making it easy for owners to have their cars updated by giving owners the choice between taking their vehicle to the dealership or have a technician come to their home. Having not received word myself, the jury is still out on how I will get the software fix.
One of my favorite things about showing my Leaf to others is having them sit in the passenger seat and listen and the magical Leaf comes to life after I switch on the button – then I say, "OK, now the car is in drive and this is the way it sounds." So, next time, before my demo begins, I'll be making a call to my Nissan dealer to ask them to come by and do the fix – after which I hope to continue to believe in the electric car dream once again. But for now, I'll be keeping my gloating dialed back until this issue gets fixed.
Want to learn more about living with an electric vehicle? Follow our long-term test of the 2011 Nissan Leaf.