TRANSPORTATION:

Plant for Nissan's Leaf gets a $1.4 billion DOE loan

Nissan will receive a $1.4 billion loan to retrofit a U.S. plant for building electric cars, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced yesterday.

The Smyrna, Tenn., facility will be outfitted to produce 150,000 models of the Leaf, as well as the lithium-ion batteries it runs on. DOE projected that at full capacity, it will support 1,300 jobs.

The loan came from DOE's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, which establishes $25 billion worth of loans to help carmakers produce vehicles that use less gasoline.

With the award, Nissan becomes the first foreign-owned automaker to win a major contract with the Obama administration.

Last fall, the program loaned Ford nearly $6 billion, and earlier this month, it loaned $465 million to California-based Tesla, a company that builds a premium electric car but wants to sell a cheaper version.

Nissan has taken a different strategy from other automakers in electric-drive by abandoning the gasoline engine entirely. Toyota, General Motors and Honda have opted for hybrid drivetrains that can use gasoline and thus have no range limit. Nissan's Leaf is an all-electric hatchback that can travel up to 100 miles.

"It may speak to the professionalism of the administration, judging proposals based on merits and not just funneling the money to the car company that you and I (and the rest of the American people) own," Steve Winkelman, transportation program director at the Center for Clean Air Policy, said in an e-mail.