Watch A 2013 Nissan Leaf Being Built In Tennessee (Video)

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2013 Nissan Leaf

2013 Nissan Leaf

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We always love seeing how electric cars are made. There's something fascinating about watching a car go right from the metal presses to rolling out of the factory.

In recent years we've brought you videos of such a process for several electric cars, and now it's the turn of the 2013 Nissan Leaf at the company's Smyrna, Tennessee plant.

That's where the latest generation of Leaf is built, with a similar plant in England now handling European Leafs.

Removing the need to ship Leafs half way across the world already makes the car a more attractive green proposition for some, but there are other benefits too.

Among them is lower pricing due to lower shipping costs and less risk of currency fluctuations, and domestic jobs benefit too. Then there's the improvements in supply that come with having a car built on your doorstep.

This latest video is a time-lapse recorded by The Tennessean, showing almost the entire production process.

You'll note that the Leaf is built on the same line as other Nissans, including the Altima. The company has faced unique challenges in building a car with a completely different drivetrain on the same line as conventional cars, but it's far more cost-effective than granting the Leaf a separate line.

Ultimately, that's better for Nissan and it's better for Leaf buyers--and it's good for us, as we get to watch great factory videos...


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Comments (21)
  1. awesome!

  2. Good reason for all the noise in the video…

    "60,000 of the all-electric cars {sold} since the Leaf was introduced in late 2010, about half of those in the United States".

  3. There are plenty of other Nissan models there. The factory is designed to build multiple models at the same time.

  4. I also noticed that the Leaf seems to be the odd duck on an assembly line that mainly cranks out ICE powered vehicles.

    DOE awarded an $1.6 billion loan to Nissan to build advanced electric vehicles and advanced batteries. I wonder if at the end of the day that was effectively just a cheap loan to build gasoline powered cars.

  5. @Chris: I can't provide details of language from the loan documents, but I'm fairly sure there are provisos in the agreement that specify funds must be used solely for costs of adding capacity for Leaf + future plug-in models.

    And the bulk of the funds actually went for construction of the adjacent lithium-ion cell fabrication plant, which obviously doesn't do any good for gasoline cars.

    Worth noting that two-thirds of the money that's been loaned out to date ($5.9 billion) went to Ford, largely for expansion of its EcoBoost engine capacity and rollout. That is definitely your gasoline case!

  6. Still...$1.6 billion is a lot to spend on a car and a battery that was already fully developed and in production elsewhere. It's more than Tesla spent on Model S, its battery, production facilities for both the car and the battery, setting up a dealership network and so on. Seems rather disproportional to say the least.

    You can't even say Nissan needed to spend more because of a larger production run, because Model S handily outsells the Leaf. Seems the redundant production capacity (about 80%) was filled up by run of the mill (non "EcoBoost") ICE products which no doubt benefit from a certain "synergy".

    Goes to show that the taxpayer doesn't necessarily get a better deal when the money is spent on opportunistically operating big boys.

  7. @Chris: A few points.

    First, the loan was to enable Nissan to add capacity to produce 200,000 battery packs + 150,000 plug-in cars a year. At the moment, Nissan is obviously doing just a fraction of those numbers--but there's significant headroom for future expansion built into the cell-fab plant (which I've visited) + presumably the assembly line as well.

    Second, I don't know if Tesla now has capacity in place to do those same volumes (though it clearly has the empty space in Fremont in which to add them).

    Third, FYI, ATVM program funds development of tech + vehicles at least 25% more efficient than those they replace, IIRC. It's NOT all about electric! Hence, Ford's EcoBoosts qualify.

  8. @ John Voelcker: Clearly Nissan might have a hard time explaining how it outspent Tesla by a factor 10 or more on production capacity for a car/battery that never had the looks or the stats to suggest it would take the market by storm.

    But it's no biggie really, it's just a loan and no doubt it will be paid back in full, on time and with interest

    That said it's a shame that of all the $25 billion that was once appropriated under the ATVM Loan Program only the 2% that went to Tesla really proved productive in the sense that it led to a product that could really affect the future of motoring and wouldn't have come about anyway because other (CARB)mandates.

  9. @Chris: You may find this, which I was asked to contribute to another publication, to be of interest:

    It argues that the challenge for governments funding startups under the ATVM program is that some of the companies will inevitably fail. That's fine for VCs, but taxpayer funds are not necessarily the same.

    And assuming Tesla pays back its loans on time, for every Tesla, there will be at least some Fiskers, and under other programs, A123s, Solyndras, etc. Is this a proper role of government? Discuss.

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  11. The AVTM loans were not just for electric cars. DoE put aside $25 billion during the Bush administration to assist manufacturers in investments in advanced technology implemented to improve fuel economy. Manufacturers then applied for the loans; some were granted/some denied.

    For example, Ford received $5.9 billion for a variety of projects. Two of the largest were:
    1. Ford ceased manufacturing of Expedition in a Michigan plant and developed the plant into a very flexible Focus/C-Max plant including HEV's, PHEV's, and BEV's.
    2. Ford switched from production of Explorer to Escape in Louisville.

    So in #2 the ATVM loans did not require BEV, PHEV or HEV production.

  12. I wonder why people keep pointing that out to me...Obviously the fact that the ATVM program had a broader scope than just EVs doesn't warrant spending funds that were awarded for EV and battery production facilities on the sort of ICE vehicles that wouldn't even have qualified for a loan.
    Yet that appears to be effectively the case since Nissan apparently over estimated demand for its EVs but lo, all sorts of ICE products were conveniently ready to pick up the slack.

    I wonder what the investment in production capacity for 200K/year batterypacks really entails. It's hard to imagine that Nissan really went ahead with doing that sort of investment in obsolete battery tech even after it was clear that Leaf sales didn't really take off.

  13. @Chris: You may have a bit of a misunderstanding of what the loan went for. The Leaf was added to an existing assembly line (as Ford also did for the Focus Electric).

    There was never going to be a dedicated line for Leafs + other electric cars. Instead, they're interwoven into production of several ICE vehicles--made possible by Nissan designing its assembly sequence to be the same across many different vehicles.

    It's always been known that the Leaf would be built on the same line as gasoline cars. We published this 2.5 years ago, for instance:

    Hope this helps clear things up.

  14. @Chris: Also curious how you come to characterize the Nissan Leaf's battery technology as "obsolete," since at the moment, it powers the highest-production plug-in car on the planet.

    That may well change, of course, but do you feel that the AESC cells were obsolete in 2009? Or not til 2011? Or just now? I'm a bit perplexed.

  15. @ John Voelcker, thanks for the clarification but this remains rather murky. The way I see it the $1.6 billion was awarded for battery production but also for the production of 150K EVs/year. Those will never materialise with Nissan's current battery tech so the capacity within the plant that was financed with that money for EV production is now put to "good" use by ICE vehicles, which of course is not what the AVTM loan was intended for.

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  17. Regarding the Leaf's battery: the technology is a joke compared to the industry's benchmark: the Model S battery that has at least double the energy density of the Leaf's. And then there is the premature ageing in hot climates thing.

    Back in 2009 the Roadster already had much better energy density than the Leaf.

  18. I agree that Leaf's battery package isn't the best design. But I am NOT sure I agree with you on the "energy density" part. Do you mean that Tesla's battery pack is at least twice as large as Leaf's in terms of energy storage? As far as the pack itself goes, based on the type of the cell and chemistry, it is only 20% higher in energy content. Tesla's battery pack is much larger than Leaf's battery pack.

    I totally agree that Tesla's liquid cooling and charging system is far superior.

  19. @ Xiaolong Li

    Where do you get the 20% higher energy content number? How much "larger"?

    The Leaf's 24KWh battery is usually pegged at ~300KG which works out as ~12.5 KG/KWh

    Model S battery weight is somewhat murky, but cell weight is know: the 3.1Ah/3,7V cells weigh 46 grams each. It takes ~7400 of these cells to build a 85KWh battery so that's ~340KG. BMS is build into the cells but extra weight must be added for wiring, cooling and packaging. Let's put the whole thing at 600KG. That's ~7KG/KWh at the pack level versus the Leaf's 12.5 KG. Okay within my assumptions that's not quite double the energy density but it's pretty close and part of the weight could be assigned to the car since the pack casing adds to its structural rigidity.

  20. @Chris O.

    I don't know what the Nissan's 300KG battery is included, but I doubt that is cell only weight. I also don't know where your number of the 600KG of the Tesla battery weight is from. Tesla S is a heavy car, almost 4,700 lbs. With many Alumium body parts and it should be near the 2,500 lbs mark without the engine/transmssion comparing to other aluminum chassis sedans out there. But until we can open the pack up to verify that, we have to say that is a guess.

    Anyway. my 20% is from the battery chemistry. Typical the type of the battery used in the Tesla S which is Lithium Cobalt Oxide. It typically has about 20% higher energy density than the LMO battery used in the Leaf. 160Wh/Kg vs. 120Wh/Kg. Okay more like 25% (120/160).

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