Telematics In 2011-2015 Nissan LEAF Electric Cars Will Need Upgrade Before Next Year — And You May Have to Pay For It

When it launched back in late 2010, the Nissan LEAF electric car came with its own specially-designed telematics system called CARWINGS. Acting as a bridge between a customer’s car and their smartphone or PC, Nissan’s CARWINGS allowed owners to remotely monitor their car’s state of charge, precondition the cabin ahead of a trip, start charging, and (when connected via Nissan’s online portal) send route-planning information to the car’s satellite navigation system.

It also allowed owners to collect and view data about their recent trips, awarding drivers with a series of virtual medals according to their driving style and overall energy efficiency.

Come January 1 next year, Nissan's original telematics units won't work.

Come January 1 next year, Nissan’s original telematics units won’t work.

Nissan had planned to offer CARWINGS for free with the car for two years from the point of purchase and then charge a yearly subscription for the service after that point. But Nissan quickly realised that CARWINGS — which was often a little flakey at best and unreliable at worst in more rural areas — wasn’t something it could charge for, and so continued to provide CARWINGS connectivity to customers’ cars free of charge, regardless of vehicle age.

But at the end of this year, AT&T, Nissan’s network provider of choice, will officially turn off its 2G Edge data network. That network is used by each and every CARWINGS-equipped 2011-2015 Nissan LEAF in North America to communicate with Nissan’s telematics servers. So when AT&T turns off its 2G network on December 31 this year, it will leave tens of thousands of Nissan LEAFs across the U.S. without a way to phone home, essentially turning off telematics functionality to those cars.

The upgrade is due to the end of 2G data coverage in North America

The upgrade is due to the end of 2G data coverage in North America

The only Nissan LEAFs not affected will be the 2016 Nissan LEAFs which began rolling off Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee production line late last year. Those cars, which came with an updated on-board telematics unit complete with 3G data connection and revised telematics software, will be able to smoothly transition to the new network without a problem. Older cars will need a hardware upgrade.

As TechRadar noted this afternoon, Nissan is already hard at work planning a new telematics module that can be fitted to 2011-2015 Nissan LEAFs in order to ensure customers can continue to access its servers and telematics system. But while Nissan says 2015 Nissan LEAF owners will be offered the upgrade free of charge, those with 2011-2014 Nissan LEAFs will have to pay something towards the cost of upgrading the unit.

In an official statement mailed to us this afternoon by Nissan North America, the automaker explained that Nissan will cover a portion of the costs for parts and installation for older LEAFs, but that some costs will be passed onto owners.

To ensure a smooth transition as AT&T discontinues its 2G cellular network at the end of 2016, Nissan will cover a portion of the costs for parts and installation that are required to update the telematics control unit (TCU) in 2011-2014 Nissan LEAF vehicles,” the statement reads. “Nissan also plans to cover all of the parts and installation costs to update the TCU in 2015 LEAF vehicles. Owners who are not already enrolled in NissanConnect EV should do so via the Nissan Owner Portal before June 30 in order to activate the service for utilization on the 2G network through Dec. 31.

 “Nissan will directly contact affected consumers with additional information regarding options for upgrading the TCU hardware in their vehicles once the hardware is readily available.”

Of course, sat nav functionality will be unaffected.

Of course, sat nav functionality will be unaffected.

At the time of writing, there’s no information on pricing, nor is there any information as to if this upgrade will affect cars outside of North America, where data providers are different. Here at Transport Evolved however, we’ve got to admit that the news won’t be welcomed by LEAF owners — especially given the trouble that the automaker has suffered in recent weeks with its telematics service.

Back at the end of last year, Nissan replaced the notoriously unreliable CARWINGS telematics system with a new system called NissanConnect EV. Offering the same functionality to existing Nissan electric cars, NissanConnect EV came with a brand-new web portal and smartphone app, and was supposed to be more reliable than the outgoing service. While existing LEAFs and e-NV200 electric minivans required no physical hardware updates to use the service, Nissan simultaneously launched a brand-new telematics system for the 2016 Nissan LEAF EV, incorporating a more advanced route-planning software and better range prediction algorithms. At the same time, it switched 2016 Nissan LEAFs from the 2G data connection of older cars to a more compatible 3G data connection.

While 2016 Nissan LEAFs seemed to work fine with the new system in North America, European LEAF deliveries were halted shortly after production began due to a hardware problem which caused the telematics system in 2016 model-year European LEAFs to constantly reboot. While some customers were able to take delivery of their cars, the telematics fault left them without full remote telematics functionality.

If you have a 2015 Nissan LEAF, the upgrade will be free. There's no news how much it will cost for other owners though.

If you have a 2015 Nissan LEAF, the upgrade will be free. There’s no news how much it will cost for other owners though.

Then just last week, a team of security researchers published details of a massive oversight in the NissanConnect EV API used to connect the smartphone app and website to Nissan’s dedicated telematics servers. The flaw, discovered in January but not made public until last week, could theoretically give hackers direct access to customer’s climate control and remote charge functions. While there was no major risk to customer’s cars or vehicle safety (only the potential for a flat battery), Nissan decided to shut down the service the day news of the hack was published in order to protect customer data.

While today’s news isn’t directly Nissan’s responsibility — it’s down to the wireless network provider not the automaker — the fact that customers will have to pay for the new telematics module if their car is more than a year old will certainly do Nissan no favors. And while we’re hopeful Nissan’s upgrade fee won’t be too expensive, it will likely further disenfranchise those who still haven’t forgiven Nissan for not offering a longer-range, aftermarket battery upgrade for their ageing cars.

Here at Transport Evolved, we’ll be just as eager to hear how much the telematics upgrade will cost, especially as we’ve two Nissan LEAFs on our staff car fleet. When it becomes available, we’ll likely put down our names (and our own cash) for the upgrade in the name of journalistic research (and so we can continue to use Nissan’s telematics system).

When that happens, we’ll share our experience with you here.


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