Nissan employees began production Jan. 9, 2013, on the 2013 Nissan Leaf (pictured above) and batteries at the Nissan North America plant in Smyrna, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Nissan)
Nissan is ramping up assembly of the 2013 model year all-electric Leaf this week at its manufacturing plant in Smyrna, where it will be manufactured alongside the company’s gasoline-powered products.
The start of the Nissan Leaf assembly in Smyrna comes on the heels of the opening of its battery plant in an adjacent facility.
Nissan is the only automaker that manufactures its own electric vehicle batteries, at the largest lithium-ion automotive battery plant in the country.
“Bringing assembly of the innovative 2013 Nissan Leaf to our award-winning manufacturing plant speaks to the flexibility, efficiency and talent of our U.S. workforce,” said Susan Brennan, vice president of manufacturing in Smyrna. “Nissan has a 30-year history of building quality vehicles in Smyrna, and just like every vehicle we produce, the Leaf has met or exceeded every one of our rigorous quality requirements.”
Though Nissan has touted the Leaf as a revolutionary vehicle, its assembly requirements are much more similar to those of its traditional siblings like the Altima and Maxima with which it shares a manufacturing line.
Adding the electric vehicle to the Smyrna manufacturing environment required only a few process changes such as the addition of quality confirmation specifically for electric vehicles and special training for technicians, Brennan said.
“Process efficiency is a never-ending activity for us,” she said. “We strive to create new internal benchmarks in efficiency with each new model. By assembling the Leaf on our current Altima and Maxima line, we are able to reduce costs by using existing equipment,” Brennan added.
For example, she said, while gas-powered vehicles receive fuel tanks and internal combustion engines when they come down the line, the Leaf gets a lithium-ion battery pack made at our battery plant next door and an electric motor produced at the Nissan power-train plant in Decherd, Tenn.
“We truly have localized U.S. manufacturing of the Leaf’s major components across the board,” she said.
The assembly in Smyrna is part of the company’s goal to manufacture 85 percent of its U.S. sales volume in North America by 2015. The efforts are intended to reduce exposure to fluctuations in foreign currency.
The addition of the Leaf and battery assembly has resulted in the creation of more than 300 U.S. manufacturing jobs, a number that can increase with demand.
“The Nissan Leaf has expanded beyond early adopters and is now appealing to a broad spectrum of consumers." said Brian Carolin, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Since we launched the Leaf in 2010, we’ve learned that people are very attracted to the advanced technology and other amenities, but they are also looking for a more affordable price point.”
He said the 2013 model boasts innovative features such as 240 volt charging that is nearly twice as fast as the previous model, as well as a broader range of trim levels.
After two years on the market, the Leaf has become the global leader in electric-vehicle sales with about 50,000 sold to date, of which 19,500 are on the road in the United States.