NASHVILLE -- Nissan North America Inc.'s timetable for preparing the Smyrna, Tenn., complex to build the Nissan Leaf and its batteries was set back by more than a month by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Not to worry, says Nissan's head of North American manufacturing. He is confident his teams will make up for the delays to the $1.6 billion electric-vehicle project in Tennessee.
"We're still targeting to launch on time," Bill Krueger, head of the company's manufacturing and supply chain management, said in an interview. "It's too early to give up on meeting our original timing. We have just shy of a year and a half to make it up."
Two plants in Japan are building the electric Nissan Leaf sedan and its battery modules in limited numbers for world markets. Nissan North America Inc. plans to begin mass producing them in Smyrna for the Americas in late 2012.
"We had people over there training when the lights went out," Krueger said. "Production didn't happen for a month. That drove the training curve back."
Krueger had two dozen people from Smyrna at the Leaf's Japanese production sites when the disaster brought large parts of Japan to a standstill. Utility problems continue to complicate business operations in some areas.
Nissan is spending $1.6 billion to build a plant that will yield as many as 200,000 battery modules a year and an assembly operation inside Smyrna to produce as many as 150,000 Leafs annually.
Most of the U.S. staff in Japan is training to handle production. In addition, Japanese tooling companies are making equipment for the 2012 launch, and parts suppliers and technical staffs from Japan are following their own schedules to meet the Smyrna launch.
"We're looking at work-arounds to try to accelerate the schedule now," Krueger said, referring to changes in the order of project tasks.
"The tsunami and the destruction certainly didn't help. But we're going to try to make up those losses."