GM Now Building Chevy Spark EV Electric-Car Motors In Maryland

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2013 Chevrolet Spark EV cutaway

2013 Chevrolet Spark EV cutaway

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Eighteen months ago, GM announced that it would build the electric motor for its upcoming Chevrolet Spark EV electric car in the U.S.

Now, that motor is officially in production at the company's Baltimore Operations plant in White Marsh, Maryland--along with the associated final-drive unit--fulfilling a promise originally made in January 2010.

“By designing electric motors in Michigan and manufacturing them [outside] Baltimore," said plant manager Bill Tiger, "GM controls the design, materials and production processes, as well as reducing costs and improving performance, quality, reliability and manufacturability.”

One of the few car parts plants left on the Eastern Seaboard that's run by a Detroit Three company, the White Marsh factory has more experience than most with electric motors: It has been building GM's complicated Two-Mode Hybrid transmission since 2008.

Lots of cash for a compliance car

Total investment to produce the electric motor in Maryland was given in 2010 as almost $250 million. That amount covers not only capital investment for plant and equipment, but also salaries for personnel involved in planning, design, testing, and built-out, among other costs.

That's a lot of money just to build one electric motor for one compliance car, and is hardly justified by the low volumes of Spark EVs GM needs to sell comply with California zero-emission rules.

Moreover, the three separate media events in which GM has now discussed this motor suggest that the company has much bigger plans for it than solely the Spark EV.

Predictably, when asked what else the motor might be used in, GM executives repeated in unison, "We don't discuss future products."

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV introduction, 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV introduction, 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

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Further discussion, however, seems to hint that perhaps this motor might be used in a future electric car as well--perhaps the one that GM chairman Dan Akerson has said could have a 200-mile range.

“Electric motor development and manufacturing is a critical area of expertise GM has mastered, said Larry Nitz, the company's executive director of engineering for electrified vehicles, "as we grow our portfolio of electric vehicles to address the needs of our global customers.”

Michigan, Ohio, back home to Maryland

The 20 or so workers at White Marsh trained at a pilot facility in Wixom, Michigan, for six months, with some also then transferring to a separate Ohio plant for a further six months, before they returned to Maryland to take up their permanent positions.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley appeared at a ceremony at the plant today to mark the formal start of electric-motor production.

GM electric motor production

GM electric motor production

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The permanent-magnet electric motor that powers the 2014 Chevy Spark EV is rated at 100 kilowatts (130 horsepower) of peak output and a startling 400 lb-ft of torque.

As a result, the electric Spark will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds, Chevy says--compared to 9.1 seconds for the 2013 Fiat 500e, another electric conversion of a gasoline minicar.

The electric Spark has far more power than the gasoline version, which uses a 83-horsepower, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine. The electric 500e remains less powerful than the 500 Abarth hot hatch model.

The Chevrolet Spark EV will go on sale this summer in California and Oregon. GM has said it will subsequently be sold in Canada, Europe, and South Korea as well.

The U.S.-built motors are exported from Maryland to the GM plant in South Korea where all Spark models are assembled.


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Comments (14)
  1. It's curious that GM should invest so much money for producing electric motors that use permanent magnets, considering the stranglehold China has on supply resulting in sky high prices. Maybe it expects that situation to change with new sources for rare earth metals coming on line soon?

    Good luck selling that Spark EV considering the sort of deal Fiat offers for its attractive 500E BTW. I expect some interesting deals from GM in return since failure is not an option for those who want to comply.

    Beauty against the beast, the battle of the compliance cars is heating up.

  2. Leasing price will make all the difference. If it can "undercut" the Leaf price, with a better performance, it might just be enough to take over some Leaf sales.

    I think it is more geared toward cities such as SF and LA.

  3. EV motors are way different in that acceleration is controlled by the ramp up function programming. Application of the full 400 ft/lbs of torque would surely just burn off the tires or worse destroy the tranny. 0-60 times mean little anymore; but, 1/4 mile time is a good measure of acceleration.

  4. tranny? There are no standard transimission here. Single speed reduction. Plus, that 400 ft/lbs aren't all that special. No different from a muscle car engine output. So, as far as gears go, they should be able to handle that. Plus, just b/c motors have that much power, it doesn't mean you need all that torque on the tire. They might "gear it up" to lower the motor speed and increase efficiency instead of using it to burn off tires. But I do appreciate a quick car off the line.

  5. I'm sure we all know this but, should be ft-lbs not ft/lbs.

  6. Great catch! Big typo! You are right!

  7. I'm guessing this will be liquid cooled somehow?

  8. I think it is air cooled. At least from the demo video on the GM website.

  9. @John Briggs: The electric motor in the Chevy Spark EV is cooled via heat dissipation through oil circulating through channels, IIRC. There's a variable-speed oil pump to circulate it depending on need.

  10. Is that cooling system "self contained" or connected to an external radiator?

    I couldn't find any information on that from GM's site.

  11. The narrow-size (thinness) of the GM motor is interesting. Perhaps could be used in hub of larger truck tires? (Or, SUV)

    The high-torque, could boost lower-end power & improve efficiencies via regen breaking common with hybrid power-trains.

  12. This high torque motor is perfect for a SUV with either AWD/dual motor configuration or motor per wheel operation. Not to mention that it can be used in future plugin hybrid SUVs as well.

  13. Li it certainly is different than a gas engine both in it's torque amount but more importantly, it's rpm range flat, full toque from near zero to 12k rpm.

    Please tell me the gas motor that can do that? And do it at 93% eff? Vs the pitiful 30% a gas does though rarely as it's rarely using 10% of it's power, wasting 9% overall vs 35-75% wasted in EV's. It's not even close in power or economy.

    You do say a lot of just plain wrong things, Why?

  14. huh? I am NOT against Electric motor. I love electric motor. When did I ever say that gas engine is better?

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