Nissan Building New Battery Plants

By JOHN O’DELL February 14, 2011

Nissan Leaf battery pack.jpg

Nissan Motor Co. is starting work on a new advanced battery plant for electric-drive vehicles – its third – and that’s good news for an industry that needs more production to help bring down electric-car prices. While built to supply vehicles the company already is making or has planned, the new plant in Portugal will boost Nissan’s electric-drive battery pack capacity to more than 300,000 a year. Volume like that can only help reduce commodity and manufacturing expenses.

That’s important because advanced batteries can be the single most expensive component in an electric-drive vehicle. Nissan also plans to sell battery packs to competitors, so lowering the cost through volume manufacturing would give it a market advantage and help reduce the technology premium that now makes rechargeable electric cars cost thousands of dollars more than their conventionally powered counterparts.

Increased production and sales also provides cash to help fund the research, development and testing needed to make breakthroughs that will enable lighter, more powerful batteries that can economically provide more range and faster charging times than the present crop of lithium-ion batteries used in plug-in hybrids and battery-electric cars and trucks.

Nissan, which launched the world’s first modern mass-produced electric car in December, is building several battery plants to support that car – the Leaf hatchback – and several other EV models it plans to launch over the next few years. The latest is in Portugal, where the company also has worked with the national government on rollout of a nationwide battery charging network.

The Portugese battery plant is being built in the northern part of the county near Cacia on the site of a transmission factory owned by Nissan’s partner, Renault. The Nissan-Renault Alliance has invested more than $200 million in the project and expects the battery plant to begin production at the end of next year, with annual capacity of 50,000 EV battery packs.

Nissan also is building a 200,000-pack capacity advanced battery plant at its sprawling U.S. auto assembly operation in Smyrna, Tenn., and a 60,000-capacity battery plant in Sutherland, England.  Renault is building a plant of its own in France with annual capacity of 100,000 battery packs. The companies have aggressive plans for their own electric-drive models – four each over the next five years.

John O’Dell:  is editor of Edmunds.com’s Green Car Advisor, providing news and commentary on environmental trends and technologies in the automotive world.

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