CHICAGO Nissan North America Inc. will ramp up assembly of the 2013 model all-electric Leaf alongside existing vehicles at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant this week.
The start of Nissan Leaf assembly in Smyrna follows the opening of Nissans battery plant next door. Nissan is the only automaker that makes its own electric vehicle batteries, operating the largest lithium-ion automotive battery plant in the United States.
Assembly requirements for the Leaf are similar to those for traditional models, such as the Altima and Maxima, with which the Leaf shares a production line. "By assembling the Leaf on our current Altima and Maxima line, we are able to reduce costs by using existing equipment," Susan Brennan, Nissans vice president of manufacturing in Smyrna, said Wednesday.
While gas-powered vehicles receive fuel tanks and internal combustion engines when they come down the line, the Leaf instead gets a lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor from Nissans powertrain plant in Decherd, Tenn.
"We have localized U.S. manufacturing of the Leafs major components," Brennan said. Leaf assembly in Smyrna will help Nissan reach its goal of manufacturing 85 percent of its U.S. sales volume in North America by 2015. Manufacturing locally reduces exposure to currency fluctuations.
Some 300 new employees will help make the batteries and assemble the Leaf, a number that Franklin, Tenn.-based Nissan said may rise along with demand.