Consumer Reports Removes Recommendation After Nissan Leaf Fails Crash Test

Nissan Leaf photoAfter three years and $1.4 billion in stimulus subsidies from U.S. taxpayers, you’d think the technology and performance of the all-electric Nissan Leaf would have improved rather than worsened by now.

You’d be wrong.

Whereas once the Leaf enjoyed a favorable review by Consumer Reports (despite an extremely unpleasant test experience by one of its researchers and the identification of several negative features), the magazine has yanked its recommendation. That’s because of the Leaf’s dismal safety performance in crash testing of small cars by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where it received a rating of “poor,” along with three other models.

“Collapse of the occupant compartment is the downfall for four small cars in this group, including the…Leaf,” said Joe Nolan, senior vice president for vehicle research for the IIHS. “A sturdy occupant compartment allows the restraint systems to do their job, absorbing energy and controlling occupant motion.”

You can view the ugly crash-test dummy photos here. Consumer Reports said the risk of “numerous injuries” forced it to reconsider its earlier approval.

“Our long-standing criteria for recommending vehicles stipulates that a model score well in our testing, have average or better reliability, and perform adequately if included in crash tests performed by the government and/or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,” the magazine said.

The vulnerability of necessarily lightweight electric vehicles is one of the lesser-mentioned factors in consumer decisions against them. But it is a consideration in addition to the more widely known flaws such as high upfront costs, long recharging times, and comparatively short driving range. With the Leaf, those have been well documented by NLPC.

Now, in addition to the new safety concerns, owners of the original model of the Leaf from 2011 are now beginning to experience “significant” range loss. More rapid battery degradation in extremely hot or cold regions has already been noted in past reports by NLPC and others.

So now that it’s time to replace the (original) Leaf’s battery, what kind of cost are owners looking at? Try $6,500, if you include taxes, installation, and a required installation kit. But don’t shudder – the financial whizzes at Nissan have come up with a plan for owners to pay $100 per month for their new batteries – presumably for at least five years, maybe longer. That certainly throws out of whack that analysis the New York Times did two years ago comparing electric vs. gas-powered cars, which determined that it would take nine years before Leaf owners break even by saving money on gasoline versus the extra cost of their electric cars. With the newly revealed replacement battery cost, the break-even date now sounds like “never.”

The true motivation for pursuit of electric vehicle development in the first place was revealed by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn in October 2011, when he told Reuters he only planned to produce the cars in countries that offered subsidies. That business principle was confirmed in June 2012 by Francois Bancon, Nissan’s global general manager of product strategy and planning.

“Yeah, [government support] is the key,” Bancon said. “This technology is expensive; the car is expensive. Where we sell the best is where the governments offer their support…which is not only the incentive for the direct purchase, but also they are investing in the infrastructure.”

So the Department of Energy’s $1.4 billion stimulus loan to convert a Tennessee plant for Leaf and battery production certainly qualified. That didn’t make the Leaf a viable option for most Americans, however, despite overblown claims about “record sales” on a monthly basis by the pro-green media.

Now the economics – and the safety issue – completely put the Leaf in the category of “dud.” No safety, no savings, no enviro-benefit – just subsidies for the crony corporatists, again.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes, an aggregator of North Carolina news.