Nissan has broken ground for the lithium-ion battery plant that will produce the power packs for the Leaf, Nissan’s battery electric vehicle. The production facility is located in Smyrna, Tennessee, near Nissan’s existing vehicle assembly plant. Nissan expects to be able to produce up to 200,000 battery packs per year, more than enough to equip the 150,000 Leafs they expect to build in Japan this year, in the U.S. beginning in 2012, and in England in 2013.

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan-Renault, is quoted as saying that over 130,000 pre-orders have been received for the Leaf globally-13,000 in the U.S. alone. Ghosn expects the Leaf to be profitable early in its lifecycle.

The 1.3 million square foot plant will provide 250 construction jobs during its’ construction. When opened, the facility will provide up to 1,300 jobs locally. The existing Smyrna assembly complex, which was the first vehicle assembly plant located in the South, currently employs around 3,800 persons.

The battery plant is being built primarily with federal Department of Energy loans totaling $1.4 billion. The loans are designed to encourage domestic production of vehicles that reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The Leaf is a battery electric vehicle, with four doors and a hatchback. It has a claimed range of 100 miles on a single charge, and can be recharged overnight at home using either a 110v or 220v outlet. It will have a base price of $32,780, but it's eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, getting the price closer to $25,000.

Nissan's Leaf will be sold in the U.S. starting in December 2010. The Japanese automaker is taking advance orders to sell the cars in markets that include Tennessee, Oregon, California, Arizona and Washington. The initial production vehicles will be imported from Japan.

[Associated Press]