The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March may force Nissan to delay start of US production of its Leaf EV which had been scheduled to begin at the end of next year.

Nissan is preparing its assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, to assemble the Leaf at a rate of 150,000 vehicles a year. The plant will also make lithium-ion batteries for the car.

Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan vice president for zero-emission vehicles, told reporters at Nissan's Michigan R&D centre that the company had devoted all its resourced to helping with the recovery in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster and this had put them "in a very difficult situation."

"We're trying to shorten the delay but I wouldn't want to make any predictions," he said.

Nissan has delivered 7,550 Leafs to customers in Japan, the US, Hong Kong and Europe so far this year he said but the company wouldn't be able to meet its 2011 production target of 50,000 Leafs.

"In 2012, we hope to be in a more normal situation," Watanabe said.
But the Leaf proved to be extremely useful during the fuel shortages which followed the disaster, particularly because most owners recharged their vehicles overnight when more electricity was available.

This has led Nissan to begin exploring technology that could turn the Leaf and its lithium-ion battery into an emergency generator, Watanabe said.

The technology would allow the Leaf to discharge electricity as well as drawing it in.