2011 Nissan Leaf prototype
Nissan upped the ante on the war to become the leading electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer this week with the announcement of a third factory for production of its upcoming Leaf all-electric hatchback. With the small British city of Sunderland becoming the third factory in three continents to be tooled up for the Leaf, Nissan is certainly singing from the right music to make good CEO Carl Ghosn’s promise that the Japanese automaker would build half-a-million EVs yearly by 2013, and that by 2040 75 percent of worldwide passenger miles would be driven in an EV.
The northern city of Sunderland has a population of around 250,000--hardly Detroit--but Nissan claims its existing plant there will play nursery to the European-spec Leaf, maintaining 2,250 jobs, about 10 percent of the region’s manufacturing jobs, for battery and car production. Along with the 1,300 charging points in both urban and rural locations throughout the industrial north east, Nissan has claimed another area as its own.
Nissan’s choice to manufacture the Leaf on three continents is a smart one as it gives the automaker a great way of receiving financial aid to bring its new electric wonder to the masses. By building the car in Japan, America and the UK, Nissan benefits from the $1.4 billion Department of Energy funding in the U.S., as well as an estimated £218 million (approximately $333 million) from the British and European governments. Without even examining the money put in from Japan, Nissan has an additional $1.7 billion in financial aid to bring the Leaf to market--a figure that can’t be laughed at.
All three sites (Oppama in Japan, Smyrna in Tennessee and Sunderland in the UK) are established Nissan factories. Between them, they have over sixty years of manufacturing experience. Established infrastructure, skilled employees and friendly local government all help to make these three locations the ideal place to herald in the new age of Nissan’s history. Certainly in the case of Smyrna and Sunderland, Nissan’s presence has been praised for raising the standard of living of manual workers in both cities, not to mention increase wages.
With Nissan and General Motors having confirmed factory locations and production schedules for their respective EVs and plug-in hybrids, the next few months are going to be interesting for the two automakers. While Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV is set to join the rumble too, it’s unlikely to be as popular with the American buyer as the Leaf or Chevrolet Volt from GM. In Europe, however, the game may be much more closely ran. Europeans tend to be less dismissive of smaller cars and the i-MiEV will be sold there under two additional rebadged names. In the U.S. the competition for EV dominance appears to be squarely between Nissan and GM.
While GM has nationalistic pride and a strong opening gambit thanks to its on-board range extender gaining it support, Nissans extensive manufacturing network does look to give the Leaf a huge advantage as production dates draw ever nearer. And while it may seem silly, the Leaf is the only five-seat model of the three.
Were still in the pre-sale shakedown but right now all bets are off. While the Volt may win in the U.S., the Leaf is setting up a strong end-game on a world-wide scale that GM may struggle to compete with in the end.