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State gets a real boost from EV assembly plan

July 3, 2009

State gets a real boost from EV assembly plan

Today’s Topic: Nissan revs up electric car

Our View

These are redefining times in both the auto industry and in the "green jobs" market, so it is fascinating to see it happening all at once in Tennessee.

Some especially good news arrived recently with the announcement of plans at Nissan to build electric cars and make batteries for them at the company’s Smyrna plant. It’s difficult to consider everything being rosy, however, when painful developments have been happening at the GM plant in Spring Hill. But the bottom line is that the state is viable as a site for quality, modern automobiles, and that’s why no one should lose hope for Spring Hill’s high-quality workers.

The changes going on in Smyrna certainly fit in with the cutting-edge manufacturing this state should want to be a part of. In fact, it’s the sort of stride Tennesseans are already witnessing. The decision to build electric cars at Nissan is a significant boost.

The story begins with the $25 billion in loans approved last year in the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, designated for companies that make cars and components geared toward fuel economy. The Obama administration recently announced $8 billion of those funds would go to three manufacturers, with $1.6 billion going to Nissan. The others are Ford, which will get $5.9 billion, and California-based Tesla Motors, which will get $465 million.

Nissan’s share will be put with $500 million in company investment for building electric cars, as well as advanced ion lithium batteries. The plan is expected to create 300 more jobs in Smyrna to build the cars and 1,000 jobs to make the batteries. Another important element of the strategy is that Nissan intends to make cars that are reasonably priced, with Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn noting there is little reason to make such cars if they’re not affordable to typical drivers.

The Nissan EV would create zero emissions, seat five people and cover 100 miles before charging. It will require energy to charge the batteries, but as Sen. Lamar Alexander has pointed out, the advantage is that would often involve using overnight electricity, which Alexander notes is currently underused and won’t take a new power plant to produce.

The manufacturing in Smyrna won’t happen immediately. The plan is to begin building the EV in Japan with sales to start in the U.S. late next year. Production would move to Smyrna in late 2012, so this is an economic advantage that won’t come quickly enough to be part of a needed economic recovery. But it does mean jobs will be created in an important sector, and everyone is learning how important job creation remains. Nissan currently has 3,900 workers in Smyrna. A significant addition to that number will help solidify the state’s reputation as an automotive hub.

The real beauty of the Nissan move, of course, is the nature of the product. Many consumers have wondered for years why there can’t be a reliable electric vehicle to perform basically the same task as a conventional gas-burning car or truck. Any sign that the nation is getting off its dependence on oil is a step forward.

The state continues an aggressive push for alternative sources of energy, whether it is for transportation purposes or heating homes. Such announcements like the Nissan move don’t just pop up randomly. The state had to be in position to make this announcement happen, and it was, in fact, positioned well for it. The state should strive for even more.


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