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Inside Nissan’s $300 million battery factory

Not surprisingly, the Japanese company has big hopes for its new high-tech U.S. facility.

FORTUNE — Modern auto factories hardly resemble their noisy, dirty, chaotic forebears of the previous century. Nissan Motor Co.’s new lithium-ion battery plant in Smyrna, Tenn. goes one step further with an atmosphere reminiscent of a laboratory.”>
The $300 million factory, which operates with 100 workers –many clad in white smocks, toiling away amid robotized machines in clean rooms — manufactures battery packs for the electric Nissan Leaf. The Leaf’s initial slow sales are perking up, thanks to steep discounting announced by Nissan in January.

“The people who buy the Leaf are incredibly enthusiastic,” said Brendan Jones, Nissan’s (NSANY) head of electric-vehicle strategy. Leaf, he said, is developing a cult-like following. “We’ve never sold a vehicle that has had so many of its owners calling, talking, suggesting ideas for improvements.”

The Leaf body is assembled nearby on a production line along with Nissan Altima and Maxima — but instead of an engine and gas tank, it gets a 600-pound battery pack and electric motor. Building the Leaf and its battery in the U.S. keeps transportation costs low and reflects appreciation for $1.4 billion the U.S. lent to Nissan in 2007 for the project.


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