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Nissan breaks ground on Tenn. battery plant

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Nissan breaks ground on Tenn. battery plant

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Nissan Motor Co. broke ground today on a plant in Smyrna, Tenn., to make advanced batteries that will power its Leaf and other zero-emission electric cars.

Nissan plans to build the Leaf, as well, at its big Smyrna manufacturing facilities, starting in 2012. The investment for both projects totals $1.7 billion.

The battery plant will be capable of producing 200,000 lithium-ion batteries a year. It will be built next to the vehicle assembly plant, which will be retooled to produce up to 150,000 Leaf cars annually. The project is backed by a $1.4 billion loan from the U.S. Energy Department and will create as many as 1,300 new jobs, Nissan said in a statement.

"What we're doing here will radically transform the automotive experience for consumers. Today is a major step in helping create a green economy in the United States," Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan and Renault SA, was quoted as saying.

Nissan has collected 13,000 pre-orders for the Leaf, which will go on sale in the United States in December, Ghosn said Tuesday during a stop in Detroit.

"The production for 2010 is already sold out," Ghosn told the Detroit Economic Club.

Nissan also has gathered 6,000 pre-orders in Japan. The automaker will start taking firm orders in August.

The battery-powered Leaf, expected to cost around $25,000 after U.S. federal and state incentives for clean-car purchases, is the first of several electric cars that Renault and Nissan will market globally.

By 2013, they expect to sell a combined 500,000 electric cars under the Renault, Nissan and Infiniti brands.

"Nissan has gone from being a company that's not known for electrification to having the first" of a new generation of affordable, battery-electric vehicles, said Daniel Cheng, a Southfield-based partner at consultant A.T. Kearney. "Electric vehicles are something everyone's doing."

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to invest $50 million in electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors Inc. Toyota said it would develop an electric car with Tesla, which already sells an electric roadster priced at more than $100,000.

"We're going to see a lot of carmakers getting into electric cars, with or without partners," Ghosn said, when asked about the deal.

Nissan is rolling out the Leaf slowly, and will make it available initially only in selected markets with charging infrastructure.

Ghosn said Nissan doesn't want to sell Leaf cars to customers who wouldn't be able to charge it easily, and might be disappointed.

Asked whether his medium-term sales forecast might be over-optimistic, Ghosn said Renault already had orders for more than 100,000 electric cars from customers in Denmark and Israel, where Renault has teamed up with Palo Alto, Calif.-based battery and services provider Better Place.

Half a million vehicles may seem like a lot, Ghosn said, but they account for less than 1 percent of annual vehicle sales worldwide.

Polls in Europe show that up to 10 percent of respondents in some countries say they want electric cars, he said.



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