* Nissan building Leaf in Japan, U.S., Britain
* Initial production capacity of 50,000 units in Sunderland
* Sunderland investment for battery, Leaf tops 420 mln GBP
* Nissan Leaf sales to start at end of 2010
(Updates with announcement, changes dateline)
By Chang-Ran Kim and Tim Castle
TOKYO/LONDON, March 18 Japan's Nissan Motor Co
(7201.T) will begin building the Leaf electric compact car at
its Sunderland plant from early 2013, making Britain its third
global production site for the zero-emission vehicle.
Nissan, Japan's No.3 automaker held 44 percent by Renault SA
(RENA.PA), had already announced plans to make batteries for the
electric cars in Sunderland, but had been considering several
sites for European production of the car itself.
Nissan said in a statement on Thursday that the Sunderland
site would start with annual production capacity of 50,000 Leaf
Carmakers worldwide are investing large sums in electric
vehicles as they seek to meet ever-tighter regulations for
emissions and struggle to pull themselves out of a savage
Nissan and Renault are by far the most aggressive proponents
of electric vehicle technology among major automakers, together
investing around 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) in electric
vehicle projects and committing to production capacity so far of
500,000 zero-emission cars a year.
Nissan has already announced production of the all-electric
Leaf hatchback first at its Oppama plant in Japan from this year
and at its Smyrna, Tennessee, factory in the United States from
2012. The car is due to go on sale in Japan, the United States
and some European markets at the end of this year, ahead of a
full-scale global rollout in 2012.
Nissan said production of the Leaf and batteries would
entail investment of more than 420 million pounds ($643 million)
in Sunderland, supported by a British government grant of 20.7
million pounds and a proposed finance package of up to 220
million euros ($302 million) from the European Investment Bank.
"This investment is a fantastic vote of confidence in the
Sunderland plant and its excellent workforce," UK Business
Minister Peter Mandelson said in a statement.
"The automotive sector is of key importance to the UK. It
supports R&D, technological innovation, skills and a supply
chain that's a mainstay of the wider manufacturing sector," he
Nissan has not yet specified how much the car will cost,
saying only that it will be competitive with similar-sized cars
with conventional engines, excluding the price of the batteries,
which will likely be leased in most cases. It is expected to
announce a price range for the Leaf at the end of this month to
start taking orders from customers.
Founded in 1984, the Sunderland factory in northeast Britain
employs around 4,000 people and built its 5 millionth vehicle in
The Leaf will be manufactured on the same line as the new
Juke compact crossover, which enters production in August.
The Sunderland plant is due to supply lithium-ion batteries,
developed jointly by Nissan and Japan's NEC Corp (6701.T), also
for Renault's electric cars. Nissan is also due to produce
batteries in Portugal to supply the European market.
(Additional reporting by Helen Massy-Beresford in PARIS;
Editing by Hugh Lawson)