Nissan's plant in Smyrna will be the U.S. producer of the LEAF, an all-electric car. The company received a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy for the project, which includes building a new facility to manufacture the LEAF's battery pack in Smyrna. When all is up and running, the investment will create about 1,300 jobs.
Nissan’s Smyrna factory is going electric, retooling to produce the zero-emissions LEAF hatchback and adding an advanced battery plant to build the packs that power the car.
Production starts this year at an existing plant south of Tokyo and Smyrna will start rolling out the cars in 2012. Groundbreaking on the new battery plant took place in late spring 2010 with construction expected to start over the summer.
This is a big win for Rutherford County. Nissan received $1.4 billion in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy for the revamp, and, like all new Nissan lines, plants throughout the world bid on getting the project. The Smyrna plant will need construction and maintenance workers to start, and when the battery plant is at capacity, it will have at least 1,000 workers.
“We like to build vehicles where they are sold, and we expect the U.S. to be a big market,” says Susan Brennan, vice president of manufacturing. “Any new model within Nissan is globally and competitively bid among the plants, and within the company we’ve earned this program.”
Logistically, Smyrna is in a great spot.
“It is good from a transportation standpoint, with the interstates,” Brennan says. “We have a good supply base here and one of the most expensive pieces is transportation of parts in and vehicles out.”
Nissan began taking pre-orders over the Internet in April to gauge market interest. The LEAF will have a 100-mile range on a single charge, and its 600-pound battery pack fits under the floor, better distributing weight and leaving more interior space, says Mark Swensen, vice president of production engineering.
Nissan formed a joint venture with NEC Corporation to design the lithium-ion battery, and engineers in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal and the United States are working as a team to improve this key component of the LEAF. Battery production begins in Smyrna in 2012, with 100,000 units a year to start. The Smyrna battery plant will run three shifts, seven days a week, and the modular design allows for production expansion to meet market needs, Swensen says.
“Capacity, weight is important for vehicle performance and the range it provides is a hot topic,” Swensen says, adding that research shows 90 percent of drivers travel less than 100 miles a day. “Our (system) will tell you how much is left and where charging stations are in the community.”
LEAF customers will have the option to buy a home charging dock at an estimated cost of $2,200. Both the charging station and the car itself, with an initial base price of $32,780, are eligible for federal tax credits. The $7,500 vehicle credit brings the price down to about $25,000.