Nissan’s U.S. Battery Plant Begins Leaf Pack Production

Nissan Motor Co., the world’s largest seller of electric vehicles, said its Tennessee battery plant began producing lithium-ion packs for the rechargeable Leaf, two years after the hatchback went on sale.

The first batch of batteries produced at the Smyrna, Tennessee, plant, funded by a low-interest federal loan worth as much as $1.4 billion, have completed an aging process and are ready for use, Nissan said yesterday in a statement. More than 300 workers have been hired at the battery factory and adjacent auto-assembly plant, where Leaf production starts in early 2013.

“The opening of this facility in Tennessee supports our goal of making zero-emissions mobility a reality through American jobs and American manufacturing,” Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive officer and chairman, said in the statement. As many as 1,000 more jobs may be added at the Tennessee site, Nissan said.

Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, has fallen short Ghosn’s goal of selling at least 20,000 Leafs in the U.S. this year, more than double 2011’s volume of 9,674. Through November the company sold 8,330 of the electric cars. A modified version arrives early next year and the company has said sales will rise with the addition of U.S. production. The battery plant is designed to produce as many as 200,000 packs annually.

Globally, Nissan has delivered more than 46,000 Leafs in the past two years, it said.

Nissan, along with Ford Motor Co., Tesla Motors Inc. and Fisker Automotive Inc., received federal loans from the Obama administration aimed at jump-starting a U.S. market for battery-only cars and plug-in hybrids. Sales of such vehicles, so far, have fallen short of the administration’s goal of getting 1 million rechargeable cars on U.S. roads by 2015.

Nissan’s North American operations are based in Franklin, Tennessee.