Nissan Leaf's restart problem By Doron Levin, contributor

FORTUNE -- The much-anticipated Nissan Leaf battery-powered sedan has been hit with its first mechanical malfunction, acknowledged over the weekend at headquarters in Japan, a problem affecting an unspecified number of vehicles that can prevent the vehicle from restarting.

According to Nissan, the problem resides in a sensor in the air conditioning system. If the sensor is activated "it will illuminate a warning light on the instrument panel" and the may prevent the car from restarting once it's been shut down.

Nissan described the number of vehicles affected as "a small number." The Japanese automaker said it is investigating to discover the "root cause" of the failures and what actions to take. So far Nissan hasn't issued a recall because the malfunction has no bearing on vehicle safety.

But the number has to be small simply because the number of Leafs sold so far is small. Leaf went on sale globally in December; only 452 have been delivered to date in the U.S. The car is built in Japan.

Technical glitches aren't unusual at the start of production of new vehicles, though anything relating to Leaf is bound to draw more scrutiny than a new vehicle with an internal combustion engine since Leaf belongs to the vanguard of modern electric-vehicle technology.

With battery power only, the Leaf differs from gas-electric hybrid models like the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius, which are equipped with internal combustion engines that work in tandem with batteries.

Leaf, which costs about $33,000 not counting a $7,500 federal rebate, is the first mass-produced family-sized pure electric. It has four doors and seating for five. It can travel up to 90 miles on a single charge, though that figure could be lower depending on style of driving, temperature and other factors.

Proponents of electric-vehicle technology say it represents a breakthrough for alternative energy, eventually paving the way for carbon-free sources of energy such as solar to power mass transportation. Some skeptics say cars like the Leaf aren't ready for prime time, because they don't offer enough range and in any event rely on electricity from power plants that typically burn coal or other fossil fuels.

I'm going to make an educated guess, based on years of reading vehicle recall notices, that Leaf either will have to undergo replacement of a sensor or adjustment of the software controlling the air conditioning system. Bottom line: Not a big problem, especially for a vehicle that represents so much new technology.

A much bigger development for Leaf and its near-term sales is the runup in gasoline prices, which could influence some carbuyers to buy an EV or a hybrid as a way to save money by switching away from fossil fuel-based transportation. While some motorists could save just as much or more by buying a light subcompact car with a conventional engine -- Leaf and its ilk maintain an undeniable cachet with the Save-the-Planet crowd. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Find Your Next Car
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 15.58 0.24 1.56%
Genworth Financial I... 13.98 -2.28 -14.02%
Facebook Inc 74.68 0.97 1.31%
Pfizer Inc 29.26 -0.21 -0.71%
Apple Inc 98.15 -0.23 -0.23%
Data as of 4:04pm ET
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,880.36 -31.75 -0.19%
Nasdaq 4,462.90 20.20 0.45%
S&P 500 1,970.07 0.12 0.01%
Treasuries 2.55 0.09 3.74%
Data as of 5:34pm ET


French toast with enough saturated fat to last a week, a burger with more than three days worth of sodium and a stack of seafood with more than a day's worth of calories top this year's Xtreme Eating list. More

Goldman Sachs downgraded Walmart -- and made the case that big-box retail is quickly losing ground to the Internet. More

Restrictive immigration policies prevent talented entrepreneurs from launching businesses in the U.S. So, they're moving to Canada. More

From "grandparent scams" to fraudulent investments, schemes targeting the elderly are by far the worst, according to an annual survey from the Consumer Federation of America. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.