Getting with the program
(Click to enlarge)
Software Upgrade
for my Nissan Leaf

July 12, 2013

Mark D Larsen

As I reported in my report on the capacity kerfuffle, Nissan announced in the MyNissanLeaf forum that owners of 2011 and 2012 Leafs would receive a letter explaining the new warranty and accompanying software update. The letter didn’t show up in my mailbox until nearly one month later, but you can open a scanned copy of it by clicking here. I immediately set an appointment with my local dealer, Stephen Wade Nissan, to install the upgrade.

The letter stated that the appointment “should take less than 2 hours.” In reality, it took much less: a half-hour at the most. The service department pulled my car into its computer bay only minutes after I arrived, as shown in the photo below on the left, taken through the window of the waiting area. Because I love to learn everything I can about my Leaf, I asked if it would be possible for me to peek over the technician’s shoulder while he performed the upgrade. Even though customers are not supposed to enter the service area, the technician, Jason, was happy to oblige my request.

Bay Leaf
(Click to enlarge)

Boxed In
(Click to enlarge)

Jason showed me the equipment used and explained the necessary steps to perform such upgrades. Apparently, dealers always download new versions of the software via the internet to their shop’s computers. In this case, he had the software ready to install on a laptop via a program that identifies, diagnoses, and upgrades the various models of vehicles that Nissan sells. At the top of this page you can see a photo of when he identified my Leaf in the system. The laptop was connected to my Leaf’s CAN bus through a “V.I.” box —which I assume must mean ”Vehicle Interface”— shown in the photo above on the right.

Loading up the upload
(click to watch the MP4 video)
This particular upgrade, designated “P3227,” included two enhancements. The first change reportedly renders the onboard chargers more compatible with a wider variety of EVSEs. Apparently a few owners had experienced problems when connecting their vehicles to certain Blink units, and this update fixes the glitch. The second change makes the capacity bars more accurate, i.e., the upgrade fixes the “faulty battery level display” that Andy Palmer claimed was exacerbating the kerfuffle in AZ.

There are several steps to the upgrade. The first is to transfer to the V.I. a backup copy of the software already in the vehicle so that, if anything goes wrong with the update, it is possible to restore the original settings. Next, the laptop copies to the V.I. the new version, and once the transfer is complete, the V.I. then uploads it to the Leaf. On the right you can open a video of the installation on my Leaf. I started filming right as the V.I. finished receiving its copy of the update (the top green thermometer bar) and started to pass it along to my car (the bottom bar). You’ll note that I ask Jason why a V.I. intermediary is necessary, and he replies that it is for diagnostic purposes, in case any errors are detected. You’ll aslo note that the upload from the V.I. to my Leaf takes less that 3 minutes. Voilà!

The installation was quick and painless, and I am pleased to see that the automaker uses equipment, protocols, and backup copies to protect against errors. Nonetheless, I predict that, in the coming years, Nissan’s programmers will start to emulate Tesla’s example of updating their vehicles’ software directly via their wireless internet connection: no fuss, no muss, no appointments necessary. Of course, dealers will likely balk, as they will no longer be needed to perform such services. I suppose that it will eventually boil down to a question of whether or not the owners’ convenience matters more than lost revenue.

Now that my Leaf has the new version of the software, what changes have I noticed? Hardly anything, truth be told. I have never connected to a Blink EVSE, and thus never experienced the charging problem that the upgrade supposedly fixed. Similarly, I have yet to lose a capacity bar, and can only assume that, when it does happen someday, the readout will prove more accurate and trustworthy. Time will tell, I suppose.

Based on Andy Palmer’s follow-up statements on the kerfuffle, I had hoped that the upgrade would also improve the Guess-o-Meter’s guesses. Unfortunately, I haven’t noticed any change so far: its range predictions seem as exaggerated as ever, but I have yet to drive up and down a steep highway to compare its readouts at the top and bottom.

I am also disappointed that the upgrade did not provide the same CarWings options that 2013 Leaf owners enjoy. As I reported in my one-year anniversary post, thanks to a second button for their CarWings settings, shown in the screenshot below on the left, they can opt to authorize the data transmission only once every 30 days.

CarWings in 2013 Leaf

CarWings in my 2012 Leaf

I still do not have that second button in my Leaf, as shown in the photo above on the right, and thus I still need to authorize CarWings every time I start the car. Bummer. Ah, well... after more than 11,000 miles I am so conditioned to pushing the OK button that I would probably always stretch my finger toward the screen anyway, even if I had such an option.

I had also hoped that the upgrade would include the 2013 feature that allows one to select 80% or 100% charging when pushing the button to override the Leaf’s timers. Not so. My button still only charges to 100% by default. Consequently, I have to program and engage a second timer if I wish to charge to only 80% when plugging in somewhere away from home. Another bummer.

There is one change I have noticed that I didn’t expect. My brakes seem “tighter” than before, with less “play” in the pedal before engaging. I had heard that some owners had complained of brakes “grabbing” intermittently, apparently because of an unpredictable interaction between regenerative braking and the actual brake shoes. Only on a rare occasion have I experienced something similar. If memory serves, it was when I had stopped at an intersection, the light turned, I released the brakes to move forward, but then had to touch them again when the car in front of me suddenly slowed, stalled, or stopped. At any rate, the change makes me wonder if Nissan has slightly increased the regenerative braking when in ECO mode with this update, to better emulate the “B” mode in the 2013 model...? Or... perhaps it is just my imagination —and wishful thinking.

Finally, on a related note, I should mention that, on the very last day of “spring,” Nissan finally responded in the MyNissanLeaf forum to the request for the price of a replacement battery pack. To be quite frank, I was appalled at the post.

Rather than fulfilling the commitment to provide a price, Nissan sidestepped the question and instead announced a program to “lease” a battery replacement for $100 per month, should the original pack ever fall below 70% capacity. I consider this nothing more than a “bait-and-swtich” ploy, and would much rather that Nissan simply admit that they couldn’t yet announce a purchase price, despite their best intentions —for reasons that they couldn’t disclose at this time. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how and why Nissan hasn’t learned its lesson to be open, up front, and honest with customers, even when —nay, especially when— the news they need to convey is discouraging. In this case, they apparently didn’t consult with their new Consumer Advisory Board until the evening before the announcement! I mean, why have such a board if you’re not going to adhere to its advice?

Personally, I find such a “lease” arrangement unacceptable. It actually amounts to an extended warranty on the battery —with monthly “insurance” premiums. I tend to consider such warranties a form of gambling: you are betting the manufacturer that something will go wrong with the product sooner than expected; the manufacturer is betting that it won’t. Although there are occasional exceptions, in the vast majority of cases... consumers lose the bet. Indeed, the manufacturer would never take that bet if not convinced of winning more often than losing.

I could give many other reasons for my objections, but let’s just chalk them up to my cultural mindset: I prefer to own my vehicles —and all their components. If Nissan doesn’t come up with an actual purchase plan for its battery packs, when my own Leaf’s capacity falls below 70%, I’ll just have to replace it with a different EV from another manufacturer willing to sell me the entire car. By the time that happens, there will be plenty more to choose from, with even longer ranges, better features, and lower prices.