Judy Jetson, Park the ‘lectric Leaf?
Leave the Leaf and just walk to the mall?
We are due a giant jump in inventive modes of transportation – something that will inspire and signal a huge shift in life and thinking – like the iPhone did or the first computer.
I look at the Nissan Leaf and other electric cars with a mix of curiosity and hope…although as was mentioned in a previous posting about electric cars (Still Waiting for the Jetsons), I do wonder about the wisdom of creating a car dependent on an energy source, electricity, which is not always produced in the cleanest, most cost-effective fashion. But still, the Nissan Maxima we had lasted for ever and was a great car. As a result, the Leaf has been getting some consideration.
Disturbing is the recent revelation that Nissan has, well not recalled their Leaf, but is starting a “service campaign” . Campaign…does that sound like a war? It is in a way…a marketing war. Apparently the eager little Leaf is so anxious to prove itself and take top honors in the car marketplace that it may demonstrate the ability to actually restart itself – all by itself – without human driver or owner! Let me get this straight: the Leaf can be totally turned off and parked in the garage – and just suddenly turn itself on.
This is sounding ‘way too American: a car with a “Type A” personality – unable to relaxed in down time.
It took all the talk about “being driven” to heart.
Too willing, too motivated to get started up again without actually being instructed to. And once it starts up unaccompanied, it patiently sits waiting for a driver. During that wait, it may actually, foolishly, run down the battery. Once the owner / driver arrives, the car may be silent and unable to start because it used all the battery energy. What? I was counting on this car being able to go! That’s non-negotiable! It has to perform when I expect it to!
Not starting unexpectedly is not a problem if you are at home or place where charging station or plug is available. Inconvenient, but not life threatening, surely.
But what if you are like that Subaru couple hiking in the dry desert / canyon lands…you know the ones that can’t find their car at the end of the day and are traipsing around looking for it by clicking the remote beeper. Aren’t hikers and people sensitive to the environment a target consumer for the Leaf? There may not be many charging stations at trail heads, so a car starting itself up and running down the battery could be a real issue. How comfortable will owners be about driving out to remote locations, if they are worried the car won’t start for the return trip home…when they are tired, sunburned, and hungry? Maybe not so much for the suburban mall shopper or one only driving short trips…as long as you don’t have a kid in daycare that charges $1.00 a minute you are late…or an insecure kid needing to be picked up at school or driven to some appointment. (Please don’t even think of a medical emergency – there’s always 911…in most places)
Nissan would like to call this a “service campaign” …which is less threatening and image damaging – than a “recall”. Their reasoning (“service campaign” being a level below a “recall”) is that there really isn’t a safety issue. Just an annoyance? An inconvenience?
Cars apparently aren’t stopping while actually running – just sometimes failing to restart after shutting down. While technically “not stopping while running”, you could be stuck in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic with a car informing you that it needs to take an expected nap because it started itself up too early and waited and waited for you to arrive…draining a good portion of the battery. (Just when you thought you had it figured out how far you could go between charges.)
Current owners (no pun intended) will be told that the service is to address a “software flaw” affecting cars in North American, Japan, and Europe. The fact that so many countries are affected means there’s a basic problem world-wide – not a problem with manufacturing in one plant in one country. Hopefully Nissan is being truthful that only a small number of cars are reporting this restarting problem.
Nissan states that about 500 U.S. Leaf owners will be notified to bring their cars in so the ”vehicle control modules” can be reprogrammed by technicians to fix the problem with “incorrect diagnosis programming”. Also there have been some reports of these cars not starting up again after being turned off because of an air-conditioning sensor problem. It seems once this sensor is activated, and an instrument panel warning light comes on, the car may not restart if turned off.
“Restarting” is a term the public may have to rethink. With a gasoline engine, restarting means turning the key and the engine starts turning, so you can go once it’s in gear. For an electric car with a motor (not an engine), restarting means electricity allows you to go instantly. The electric motor “restarts” every time you leave a stop sign. It’s like an electric drill: drills “restart” every time you pull the trigger. An electric car “restarts” every time you hit the throttle (it’s a motor, not an engine). It’s like a golf cart – push the pedal and instantly you go: nothing is happening in the motor if you are not pushing the pedal. There’s nothing running: the motor is not idling/ not spinning under the hood waiting for you to put it in gear and go like a gasoline engine. That’s why it’s so quiet when the car is sitting still.
Nissan Motors says it wants to correct a “restarting problem” – it’s not a battery thing – the battery is fine…the car just won’t go.
In any case, Nissan Motor Company is trying to figure out what the real problem is. They have a invested quite a bit in this Leaf venture. (and so have peripheral companies: such as charging station providers, and electric companies themselves.)
The public is probably willing to give Nissan a chance – as they are so desperate for anything that offers a solution for the rising gasoline prices. And admit it, we all want to be the Jetsons: the early adopters, the smart ones on the block.
And it is true, as some have observed, that any new invention/product has a shake-down period where unexpected glitches appear – and solutions are ultimately found. It seems all sorts of products – whether cars, medical devices, or medicines – are sometimes rushed to the market place too quickly – all in an effort to be the “first” and grab the biggest market share and profit. As Nissan knows, perception is important. (We won’t even talk about that electric hybrid car that may be blamed for starting fires in a garage ..twice..and almost burning a house down…poor wiring or a bad charging station may eventually take that blame.)
Nissan has a window of time to sooth and reassure nervous buyers – to instill confidence that the Leaf is a reliable wise choice…before another company jumps in and grabs the public’s attention and money.
Meanwhile, maybe just park the Leaf and grab that reliable bike?
Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.