Nissan Leaf dispute highlights the danger in buying old EVs

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Words: Matthew Hansen
28 Oct 2020

Although the new prices of electric vehicles are on a clear downwards trajectory, most are still too expensive for the average New Zealander. This has seen the market for second-hand electric cars boom, many of which are made up of Japanese imports.

The Nissan Leaf is the most common of these imports, with its practical package and accessible pricing making it a favourite among the EV community. But, the popular model has sadly itself at the centre of a recent potential landmark Motor Vehicles Disputes Tribunal case. 

The September 2020 case was between a woman who purchased a 2012 Nissan Leaf, and the West Auckland car dealership who sold the vehicle to her. According to disputes tribunal documents, the woman identified herself as an EV novice to sales staff, and was then shown the range indicator on the Leaf’s display apparently as evidence of the health of the vehicle’s battery.

Having purchased the car, the buyer then charged it to full where it displayed 102km of range on its range indicator. She then drove the car 38km from Northcote to Pakuranga (in wet weather), only to find that upon arrival the Leaf showed 42km worth of range remained — a 22km discrepancy compared to the range the vehicle said it had at the start of the journey and the amount of kilometres travelled.

The case recognised that there’s a number of factors that can impact an EVs real-world range, including weather conditions, use of heaters and other on-board features, and so on. Maybe most interestingly, the dealership confirmed that it did not tell the customer that the vehicle’s range indicator was not a reliable means of measurement — adding that it had no obligation to do so.

“[The dealer] says that he had only a brief discussion with [the buyer] about the vehicle’s range indicator and assumed that she knew that the range indicator would not give a precise estimate of the vehicle’s distance to empty,” states the documentation.

“[The dealer] also considered that it was ‘general knowledge’ that the range of an electric vehicle will vary depending upon the amount of electricity used while driving, so a range indicator will never give an accurate estimate of the vehicle’s actual range.”

The tribunal argued that “silence may constitute misleading or deceptive conduct, but whether it does is to be objectively assessed in all the circumstances” in its consideration of whether the sale was a breach of the Fair Trading Act — eventually siding with the dealership over the belief that “a reasonable consumer should understand that the range of an electric vehicle is determined by a number of variables”.

Cases like these are only going to become more common, as more and more mainstream vehicle buyers opt to trade in internal combustion vehicles for electric ones.


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