Nissan Breaks Ground On Leaf Battery Plant

SMYRNA, Tenn. (AP) -- Nissan North America Inc. broke ground Wednesday for a lithium-ion battery plant as part of its plan to start building electric cars and eventually create up to 1,300 jobs in Tennessee.

The Smyrna plant is part of a $1.7 billion investment to start production of Nissan's all-electric Leaf starting in 2012. The investment includes a federal energy loan.

The 1.3 million-square-foot battery plant will also create about 250 construction jobs at Smyrna, where Nissan currently has about 3,800 employees at what was the first foreign auto assembly plant to locate in the South.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd President and CEO Carlos Ghosn and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman attended the Wednesday ceremony.

Ghosn said he drove a Leaf last week in Japan, calling it "a roomy five-seater with a spacious trunk."

"Its very powerful, it's very silent and the handling is exceptional," Ghosn said.

Poneman referred to the groundbreaking, saying, "It's a good day for the economy and the ecology of the world."

Nissan has said the production hiring will coincide with its scheduled opening of the battery plant in 2012 and there will be up to 1,300 new jobs when Leaf assembly starts operating at full capacity.

The $1.4 billion federal loan to Nissan is part of a $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program authorized by Congress as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Nissan's five-passenger Leaf sedan will be sold in the U.S. starting in December 2010. The Japanese automaker is taking advance orders to sell the cars in markets that include Tennessee, Oregon, California, Arizona and Washington.

The Leaf -- designed to cover about 100 miles between each charge -- will have a base price of $32,780, which after a $7,500 federal tax credit would mean a net cost of about $25,000.

Nissan has said it will start making the Leaf in Japan later this year, in the United States in 2012 and in England starting in early 2013.

Ghosn said 130,000 consumers have registered to buy the car -- 13,000 in the U.S. He expects electric cars to make up 10 percent of the automotive market.

Nissan expects U.S. production to reach 150,000 cars per year with 200,000 batteries manufactured annually.

Ghosn, who also heads France's Renault, has been a vocal proponent of electric vehicles .

Buyers of the first 1,000 Leafs in Tennessee will also receive chargers, said Jeanine L'Ecuyer, a spokeswoman for Ecotality Inc., a Phoenix, Ariz.-based company that is handling development of an electric car charging infrastructure. She said a federal grant will pay for the buyers' 240-volt chargers, which take about six to eight hours, and also cover most of the installation cost.

L'Ecuyer also said there are plans to provide about 1,200 charge units that are publicly available in Tennessee. Another 60 "fast chargers," or 440-volt circuits, will be located along "transportation corridors" between Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, she said. Those devices recharge an electric car in less than 30 minutes.

She said the charging equipment should be compatible with any electric vehicle made in the U.S.

Nissan's North America headquarters is at Franklin. In 2008, 25 years after opening the assembly plant at Smyrna, Nissan moved into a new $100 million North America headquarters south of Nashville. The company also has a power train plant at Decherd.

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