NASHVILLE - Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. announced Friday it will add a third shift at a vehicle assembly plant in Tennessee, adding more than 800 jobs.
Gov. Bill Haslam made the jobs announcement at an economic development conference. Haslam said it's the first time the plant will operate on three shifts.
"Nissan and Tennessee have enjoyed a long and successful partnership, and this announcement shows the strength of the company and the market demand for its products," Haslam said in a statement.
The staffing for the expanded work hours bring the total new Nissan jobs in the state to more than 2,000 since the middle of last year. About 5,600 people currently work at the Smyrna plant that first began production in 1983.
The Smyrna plant makes Nissan's most popular car, the midsize Altima sedan, among other models. Production of the all-electric Leaf is set to begin at the plant in December, while assembly of the Rogue is set to come to Smyrna next year. That will mark the first time the small SUV is made in the United States.
Nissan Americas Vice Chairman Bill Krueger said the new shift will begin work on Sunday, building the Altima, Pathfinder, Maxima and Infiniti JX.
"The third shift plays an important role in Nissan's plan to make cars where we sell them," he said. "By 2015, 85 percent of Nissan vehicles sold in the U.S. will be built here in North America."
Nissan's American headquarters are located in Franklin, just outside Nashville. The company also recently announced an expansion of its engine plant in Decherd, Tenn., that also makes motors for the Altima. Nissan also has a U.S. plant in Canton, Miss.
The Nissan announcement is the latest positive news for the automotive sector in Tennessee. General Motors announced in August that it will add 500 jobs to make its new Ecotek at its Spring Hill plant, which is also slated to begin assembling the Chevrolet Equinox crossover and two other midsize models that have not yet been named.
Meanwhile, German automaker Volkswagen AG announced in July it would boost production at its Chattanooga plant by 30,000 cars next year with the help of about 1,000 new workers added this year.
Nissan introduced an all-new version of the Altima earlier this year, and the midsize car is now the fifth-best selling vehicle in the U.S.
Through September, the company sold 234,040 Altimas, up almost 17 percent from last year. It also ranks No. 3 on the list of top-selling cars in the U.S., beaten only by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
Sales of the Leaf electric car haven't fared as well. Nissan sold 5,212 through September, down almost 28 percent from a year earlier. But sales of the Rogue small SUV are up 20 percent so far this year at nearly 110,000.