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Baltimore Operations plant in White Marsh, Maryland--along with the associated final-drive unit--fulfilling a promise originally made in January 2010.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

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

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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