By Phil LeBeau, CNBC Correspondent
Nissan has a problem. A potentially very big problem with its brand new, highly-touted, and all electric LEAF. Seems the car that could revolutionize the auto business is having trouble starting in certain situations.
Today, Nissan publicly acknowledged some electric LEAF's have a problem with re-starting after the car has been running.
Nissan issued a statement saying, "This is not a safety issue as the vehicle will not stop running while being driven but may not restart after being turned off." According to Nissan the issue stems from a problem with a sensor in the air conditioning unit, adding, "If this sensor is activated it will illuminate a warning light on the instrument panel and may cause the vehicle to not restart once it has been turned off. We are actively investigating to determine the root cause and what action is necessary to address the issue." So far, Nissan won't say how many LEAF owners have reported this problem, but it has happened in both the U.S. and Japan.
How big of a problem is this for Nissan? If the Japanese automaker can find the glitch and correct it in models being built, the issue will fade rather quickly. The bigger problem for Nissan is in public relations and public perception. The longer this story festers the more it will reinforce the idea that you can't trust electric cars. Trust me, there are more than a few people out there who think anyone buying an electric car is making a foolish decision that will backfire when the car eventually short circuits, won't start, etc.
Already the message boards on the web have comments from people claiming they've had problems with their Nissan LEAF. OnMyNissanLEAF.com some of the posts include this one from GEEKev, "I suppose it had to go mainstream news sooner or later. Let's just hope this doesn't unfairly taint public opinion of EV." Another person posted, "The fact that Nissan is saying that it is not a safety issue reeks of BS though... That may come back to bite them on the a** ala Toyota!." Meanwhile on nissanleafwiki.com there's plenty of possibilities about how many LEAF models may be effected, if Nissan has a plan to fix the cars, and a list of 16 different incidents since late March where people reported problems with their LEAF.
Nissan has already sold out of its initial 20,000 LEAF's that will be built this year. A sizable number of those headed to the U.S. Out of the gate, production was slow and it's been hampered even more by the devastation caused to the Japanese auto industry by last month's earthquake and tsunami. To have new questions raised about a car not being able to start up will only further hamper the roll out of a car that is critical to Nissan's plan to establish itself as a leader in electric cars.