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GM invests $246m to make electric motors in-house

26 January, 2010

General Motors is investing $246m to become the first major US car-maker to design and manufacture its own traction motors for hybrid and all-electric vehicles. By controlling the design, materials selection and production processes, it hopes to lower costs and to improve the performance, quality, reliability and manufacturability of electric motors.

Tom Stephens, GM’s vice-chairman for global product operations, points out that a century ago the electric starter revolutionised automotive travel by eliminating the need for a hand crank. “We think the electrification of today’s automobiles will be just as revolutionary and just as beneficial to our customers,” he says. “Electric motors will play a huge role in that.”

The motors will be built at a plant in Baltimore, Maryland, where GM expects to create about 200 jobs. The expansion is being funded, in part, by a $105m grant awarded to GM last August by the US Department of Energy to fund the construction of US manufacturing capabilities to produce electric motors and related electric drive components.

The first GM-produced traction motors are expected to debut in 2013 in the company’s next-generation, rear-wheel-drive “two-mode hybrid” technology which will use two unique motor designs and an internal combustion engine to improve fuel efficiency compared with GM’s existing hybrid technology. The technology will be a development of the drive systems being used in in existing GM hybrid vehicles such as its Tahoe truck (shown above).

“In the future, electric motors might become as important to GM as engines are now,” Stephens predicts. “By designing and manufacturing electric motors in-house, we can more efficiently use energy from batteries as they evolve, potentially reducing cost and weight – two significant challenges facing batteries today.”

The expansion builds on GM’s existing in-house electric motor research and development, design and validation capabilities. As well as expanding its in-house motor development activities, GM will continue to purchase and co-design electric motors with external suppliers.

“Our goal is simply to establish GM as a leader in automotive electric motors,” says Stephens.

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