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'Leaf' to get battery plant

Published:Sunday | May 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM

SMYRNA, Tennessee (AP):Nissan North America Inc broke ground Wednesday for a lithium-ion battery plant as part of a plan to build a five-passenger all-electric car, the Leaf, and create up to 1,300 jobs in Tennessee.

The automaker's top executive said it was a no-risk venture. "This is going to be a moneymaker," Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said.

The battery plant is part of a US$1.7-billion investment to start production of the Leaf in 2012. Most of the investment comes from a federal loan aimed at fostering energy independence.

The four-door hatchback has a range of 100 miles (160 kilometres) on a single charge. It will have a base price of US$32,780, but it's eligible for a US$7,500 federal-tax credit, making it closer to US$25,000.

The 1.3 million-square-foot (120,000 sq metre) 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.

Ghosn, Governor Phil Bredesen and United States (US) 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," he said.

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 operates at full capacity. Ghosn said the plant might eventually make batteries for other automakers.

advance orders

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

Nissan's Leaf will be sold in the US 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.

Ghosn said California offers a state incentive that lowers the price to about US$20,000.

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

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

Nissan expects US 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 and said Wednesday that Nissan is a leader in no-emission transportation and is also developing fuel-cell technology. Ghosn said Nissan is waiting for China to develop a policy on electric cars.

"When a government is interested they call us," Ghosn said. "People are calling us and telling us "What should we do to get the electric car in our country or our city?"'

Ghosn predicted 2010 will be a record for overall automotive sales globally, at about 17 million cars.