When Nissan launched the LEAF Electric car back in late 2010, it came as standard with an onboard telematics system called CARWINGS. Designed to act as a bridge between a customer’s car and their smartphone or PC, the Nissan CARWINGS allowed owners to remotely monitor their car’s state of charge, remotely start charging, precondition the cabin to a comfortable temperature and (when paired with Nissan’s online web portal) send route-planning information to the car’s satellite navigation system.
It also allowed customers to search for nearby charging stations while in their car, using the telematics system to retrieve charging station data for their area or chosen destination.
At a time when very few cars on the market had any form of smart, interconnected telematics system, Nissan’s CARWINGS was cutting edge in terms of the automotive market, yet Nissan chose to rely on a reasonably old 2G cellular data system from AT&T to act as the communication medium with which its North American cars communicated with Nissan’s CARWINGS server. Put bluntly, had a Smartphone launched in 2011 with just a 2G Edge data connection, it would have been laughed out of the marketplace.
Indeed, very few 2G smartphones are even in use any more, which is why AT&T is planning on switching off its 2G cellular data network at the end of this year to repurpose the 2G radio frequencies for new, more advanced cell technology. As we explained back in February, this will leave tens of thousands of 2011-2015 Nissan LEAF SV and Nissan LEAF SL models without a way to call home. Entry-level Nissan LEAF s models, which did not come with on-board telematics, are thus not affected.
At the time, Nissan promised that we’d hear more of the planned telematics upgrade some time before the end of the summer, indicating that it had already begun work on designing a replacement Telematics Control Unit (TCU) to fit 2011-2015 Nissan LEAFs that used a 3G data signal rather than a 2G one. At the same time, it explained that owners of 2015 Nissan LEAFs would receive their TCU upgrade free of charge, but noted that owners of older LEAFs would be asked to contribute towards the cost of the upgrade.
Far behind promised schedule, Nissan begun to contact affected LEAF owners yesterday and, as we found out this week, is offering to replace the TCU on 2011-2014 LEAFs for $199., The procedure, which will take a few hours, will leave customer’s cars with the same credentials and login information for NissanConnect EV (formerly CARWINGS) as before, and should restore full functionality to cars whose telematics systems would otherwise go dark on December 31, 2016. We should note too, that while the upgrade replaces the TCU with a new 3G model, customers won’t get an upgraded touch-screen display or nav system, meaning they won’t get the enhanced functionality of 2016 -2017 Nissan LEAFs fitted with new NissanConnect EV navigation systems.
As Nissan told Transport Evolved earlier this week, it is subsidizing the cost of the upgrade, but for those with an ageing Nissan LEAF the sudden $199 upgrade fee may be a bitter pill to swallow. To date — despite initial indications that its telematics system would charge a yearly subscription fee after the first three years of use — Nissan’s telematics system has been free for all LEAF SV and SL customers in North America, with counterpart LEAF models in Europe having the same free-to-use policy. But while Nissan CARWINGS (which became NissanConnect EV late last year) has been free to use, it hasn’t won any prizes for reliability.
Due to poor connection issues, many customers have struggled to get their telematics system to properly connect to their car when parked at home or work. Others have found the system will work for a few weeks at a time, then inexplicably go offline for days at a time. Granted, the reliability of the Nissan Telematics system has vastly improved in recent years, but many owners we know gave up on it a long time ago and as such, will be unlikely to pay for the upgrade.
For others however — the Transport Evolved team included — the functionality of the remote telematics system (connection issues aside) has proven itself invaluable time and time again, especially when it comes to sending status updates on vehicle charging or clearing the car’s windscreen on a cold, frosty morning.
That said, Nissan appears to have dropped the ball on this particular problem. Despite knowing about it more than a year ago, it’s taken the Japanese automaker far longer to come up with a solution and a pricing structure for replacement than it should have and, worst of all, it has given customers just three weeks to book their car in to have the replacement unit fitted.
Three weeks which includes the week-long break many people take from work to celebrate the Holidays. And for that, we can’t criticise Nissan enough. Granted, customers don’t have to have their cars upgraded before the end of the year, but those who choose not to will lose connectivity until they take their car into their local Nissan dealership for the upgrade. And while we’re on the subject of Holidays, finding $199 at short notice to upgrade the telematics system is bound to take a chunk out of the (already stretched) December household budget for many.
That said, we’ll be shelling out the required $199 and sending our 2013 Nissan LEAF staff car through the process in the coming weeks for the interests of Journalistic investigation– and will of course let you know what the process is like from a consumer’s point of view.
Do you have a 2011-2014 Nissan LEAF? Do you use Carwings/NissanConnect EV? And will you be paying for the upgrade?
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