Just two years after the first Nissan Leaf was sold in the U.S., Nissan said today it has opened a plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, to fabricate lithium-ion cells for electric-car batteries.

The first cells built at the plant have completed the necessary aging process, and can now be charged for the first time.

Those cells will go into electric cars built in its adjacent assembly plant, the first of which will be the 2013 Nissan Leaf.

That is a slightly revised model of the battery-electric car it has been importing from Oppama, Japan, for the 2011 and 2012 model years.

The U.S. version of the updated 2013 Leaf, which has not yet been described by the company, will be built among Altima and Maxima sedans on the existing assembly line.

Other all-electric models will be added later, almost surely including a production version of the Infiniti LE compact luxury sedan revealed as a concept at this year's New York Auto Show.

The cell fabrication factory in Smyrna is the largest plant in the U.S. that builds automotive-scale lithium-ion batteries, and one of just three globally for Nissan.

It can produce batteries for up to 200,000 electric vehicles a year. The other two, which can build 50,000 apiece, are in Japan and in Sunderland, England.

To date, Nissan has sold just over 18,000 Leafs in the U.S. in the car's two years on the market. Worldwide Leaf sales total roughly 46,000.

That U.S. total is second among plug-in cars only to the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle, of which almost 29,000 have been delivered.

Nissan says that opening the cell plant and adding Leaf production to the Smyrna lines has created more than 300 jobs.

Nissan Smyrna Tennessee

Nissan Smyrna Tennessee

"The opening of this facility in Tennessee," said Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, "supports our goal of making zero-emissions mobility a reality through American jobs and American manufacturing.”

At full production volumes of 150,000 cars and 200,000 batteries per year, up to 1,000 jobs could be added, it said.

The battery plant and the addition of Leaf production to North America was largely funded by a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy's advanced-technology vehicle manufacturing program.

Nissan was granted a $1.6 billion loan in June 2009, along with Ford and Tesla--and, later that year, Fisker.

It ultimately used $1.4 billion of the loan proceeds, with the investment in both plants when they are operating at full capacity totaling up to $1.7 billion.

Details on the revised 2013 Nissan Leaf "will be announced closer to the vehicle’s on-sale date in early 2013," the company said.


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