1300 workers will be hired to make lithium-ion batteries for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicles

Total employment at the Smyrna plant could be pushing 6,000 workers — nearly double its current level — by early next year as workers build two new crossover utility vehicles plus batteries and eventually the Leaf electric car.

Nissan said 1,000 jobs would be filled over the next year to staff a second shift on the plant’s truck line to assemble the JX, the first of which was shown Monday, and a redesigned Nissan Pathfinder crossover that comes later this year.

In addition, about 1,300 workers will be hired to make lithium-ion batteries for the Nissan Leaf electric car and to add Leaf production to the Smyrna plant in early 2013, the company said earlier. The plant currently employs 3,500 workers.

The battery facility is adjacent to the assembly plant and is nearing completion.

The first sellable JX came off the assembly line Monday and was showered with confetti during a 30-minute ceremony to mark production of the first luxury vehicle to be built at the plant since it opened 29 years ago.

It’s also the first luxury vehicle built in Tennessee, which has a long history in auto manufacturing, including General Motors’ work in Spring Hill and the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga as well as dozens of parts suppliers.

"This launch is second in importance only to the original launch (of the Nissan compact pickup) in 1983," said Mark Swenson, vice president of production engineering for Nissan Americas.

"It’s a lot of responsibility," Swenson said of the plant’s move to make luxury cars. "Quality is the key."

All of Infiniti’s other vehicles are now made in Japan, although the Canton, Miss., factory previously assembled the Infiniti QX56 full-size sport utility.

As Nissan’s luxury brand, similar to the role of Lexus in Toyota’s lineup, Infiniti’s products are expected to have a high level of craftsmanship not generally found in less expensive, mass-market vehicles.

Building here will save money

Building the luxury vehicle in Smyrna, rather than importing it from Japan, will help lessen the bite on Nissan’s profits from the strong value of the Japanese yen versus the U.S. dollar, said Bill Kruger, vice chairman of the Franklin-based Nissan Americas.

During the next two years, the company plans to increase its North American production to supply at least 85 percent of the vehicles that Nissan sells on this continent, Kruger said. That’s up from 70 percent last year.