TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Building an electric vehicle on the same line as a number of conventional models may sound like a dubious strategy, but that’s what Nissan North America Inc. is undertaking as it gets ready for the December introduction of its Leaf EV in Smyrna, TN.

Susan Brennan, vice president-manufacturing at Nissan’s Smyrna plant, tells Ward’s following a Monday address at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars, the Leaf game plan makes sense because “the benefits of not putting in a new assembly operation outweigh the challenges.”

Brennan, who also is responsible for Nissan’s Decherd, TN, plant, says Smyrna’s task is enhanced by the fact the Leaf already is in production in Japan. The Leaf will join the Altima and Maxima on the same line.

Still, Brennan is confident the Leaf will fit into the assembly scheme without major problems.

The chief reason is workers will assemble component “kits” offline and deliver them via automated guided vehicles to the same assembly stations used by the other cars.

The Leaf’s battery pack, for example, will be delivered to the station where engines are installed in Altima and Maxima. One deviation: the Leaf won’t have a fuel tank, so it won’t stop at that station.

The Leaf will be powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries produced in a facility next to the Smyrna plant with a 200,000-unit annual capacity.

“These batteries are half the size and weight but twice as powerful” as more conventional nickel-metal-hydride batteries used in today’s hybrids, she points out.

The Altima hybrid already has a battery decking line, which also smooths the way for Leaf assembly, she says.