Facing Owner Complaints on Leaf E.V., Nissan Executive Defends Company’s Record

Andy Palmer, executive vice president at Nissan, said the company had no plans to upgrade the purely electric Leaf with a new, longer-range battery, or to add an active temperature management system for its battery packs. Mr. Palmer, at a press briefing on Tuesday in Lower Manhattan, discussed the automaker’s E.V. strategy in light of recent attacks aimed at the program.

Reacting to criticism from a group of Leaf owners in Arizona claiming their batteries lost a measure of charging capacity more quickly than expected, Nissan announced last month it would convene an advisory board to improve the company’s engagement with the E.V. community. Mr. Palmer said the 2013 Leaf, scheduled to begin production soon in Smyrna, Tenn., would include many small improvements, but no major changes.

Nissan, he said, “started the conversation” about electric cars, but needed to better communicate their real-world performance.

Buyers and lessees of the purely electric hatchback have high expectations, Mr. Palmer said, and he conceded that Nissan was “pretty lousy” at communicating with the early adopters who so enthusiastically embraced the cars. The expected range of the E.V. would vary according to climate, driving conditions and other factors, a message Mr. Palmer said the automaker hadn’t “been wholly successful” in getting across. He added, however, that based on data from owner-satisfaction surveys, 95 percent of Leaf customers were happy with their cars, a level higher than any other vehicle in Nissan’s portfolio.

The press event took place after Nissan bought back a pair of Leafs in Arizona because of complaints related to hot weather battery degradation and also following sales and leases that continued to fall short of expectations. Just 685 of the cars were bought in August. The picture improved somewhat in September, with American customers taking delivery of 984 Leafs, its best month among the last 12. Mr. Palmer reiterated Nissan’s unchanged goal to sell or lease 20,000 Leafs in the United States in fiscal 2012, which would conclude in March.

Mr. Palmer said leadership in electric vehicles remained a priority for the company, but he acknowledged some missteps in that field, as well as other factors that affected sales. “The Japanese earthquake didn’t help, the yen is killing us, and the uptake particularly in the United States isn’t as strong as we first hoped.”

Also attending the press briefing on Nissan’s behalf was Chelsea Sexton, an E.V. consultant and the organizer of the independent board advising the company. Ms. Sexton said consumers had to realize that “not every car has to do everything,” and that battery electrics were probably not the vehicle of choice for long road trips. She compared the electric car to the microwave oven, in that it’s “very useful, even if you don’t put the Thanksgiving turkey in it.”