SMYRNA, Tenn. – Nissan broke ground Wednesday on a $1.7 billion investment that will eventually bring an estimated 1,300 jobs to Middle Tennessee.
The automaker is expanding its suburban Smyrna plant to build lithium-ion batteries for its new electric car, the Leaf.
The plant will also be retooled to build the zero-emission vehicle beginning in 2012.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen were on hand for Wednesday's ceremony.
"Today's groundbreaking is about a lot of things but certainly for me and especially in this time it's about creating quality jobs," the governor said shortly after receiving a quick ride in a Leaf driven by Ghosn.
Ghosn added, "We think the U.S. will be one of the major markets for electric cars and that is why we are starting to build the capacity in order to respond to this demand."
Within weeks, bulldozers are expected to start churning up the old test track next to the Nissan plant where the addition will go.
Covering 1.3 million square feet when complete, the battery plant will be among the largest vehicle manufacturing plants in North America.
The battery addition and the retooling of the Smyrna plant are also expected to add 250 constructions jobs for the duration of the two-year building process.
When fully operational, the Smyrna plant is projected to produce 200,000 batteries and 150,000 vehicles a year.
The first Leafs will be made in Japan and arrive at dealerships late this year.
Nissan said it has already received 19,000 orders in the United States and Japan and may soon have to stop taking preorder reservations.
Nissan currently has about 3,800 employees at the assembly plant in Smyrna. The Japanese automaker's North America headquarters is in nearby Franklin.