Pivoting the factory to battery vehicles is a complex endeavor.
Nissan must expand the facility’s physical footprint to accommodate the assembly of battery packs and other components.
“We will drive for more localization to reduce CO2 emissions in the supply chain,” Johnson said.
New technologies, such as laser brazing, will be introduced in the body shop to create parts that are “unique to the styling of our vehicles,” Johnson said. “We’re going to modify our onsite presses for full aluminum capability,” he said.
The assembly line will require modification rather than a rip-out.
The heaviest changes will be in trim and chassis, where Nissan will deploy the simultaneous underbody mounting system to mate the chassis to the battery powertrain.
The new vehicle platforms will bring greater automation. Nissan said about 20 percent of trim and chassis work on the EV line is automated compared with 6 to 10 percent on the combustion engine line.
But robots won’t come at the expense of humans. New positions in battery pack assembly and other production areas will offset jobs lost to automation in trim and chassis.
“We’re just maintaining and upskilling the jobs,” Johnson said. “People may move around, but the overall headcount is basically flat.”
Integrating EV production without affecting current output will be a challenge.
“Every time we bring in new technology, [the] material and process flow is going to be different than before,” Johnson said. “You have to work around current operations and processes to keep the vehicles you’re building today flowing while preparing for the future.”
Johnson said his message to the team is to prioritize the EV line.
“It’s OK to be a little bit suboptimal in the last months of a particular vehicle or project’s life to [ensure] that we’re fully optimizing for the start of the next,” he said. “You can’t shortchange the future while continuing to work on today.”