Since going into production in 2010 as a 2011 model, the Nissan Leaf has become the most widespread all-electric vehicle ever produced. Despite sagging sales of late, Nissan has still managed to sell 18,000 of them in the U.S. and more than 46,000 worldwide.
On the second anniversary of the Leaf starting production, Nissan has announced its Smyrna, Tennessee, plant has begun producing the lithium-ion battery packs for the electric car. Soon after, the refreshed, upgraded 2013 Nissan Leaf is expected to bow, going into production alongside the Altima and Maxima midsize sedans in Smyrna.
At the assembly plant, Nissan will be able to produce as many as 200,000 battery packs a year, which is considerably more than what’s currently needed. However, the yen is making it tough to make a profit on U.S. Leafs, so it makes sense to bring the car here. And, as Nissan has shown with its recent string of concepts, it’s not nearly through with developing its electric motor and battery technology.
Infiniti has announced that it will produce a version of its LE concept car, based on the Leaf, and Nissan will soon be producing a hybrid version of the Altima sedan that debuted for the 2013 model year.
By 2015, Nissan says that it expects 85 percent of its products across both brands that are sold in the U.S. to be made domestically as well. At full capacity, the new battery plant and expansions needed to facilitate it will cost $1.7 billion. Nissan also received a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy for as much as $1.4 billion to make it happen.
The Leaf battery plant will immediately bring on 300 new jobs and could expand to as many as 1,000 jobs at full capacity. Seeing as how fuel economy regulations are getting more stringent, it is possible that hybrids and electric vehicles will proliferate in the U.S. as the 54.5 mpg mandate by 2025 grows nearer to its 2016 start date.
The automaker has hedged a lot on lithium-ion technology, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares over the next few years.