General Motors Begins First U.S. Production of Electric Motors for 2014 Spark EV

Just the Facts:
  • General Motors this week became the first domestic automaker to design and manufacture an electric vehicle drive motor in the United States.
  • The new electric motor, which generates 100 kilowatts (130 horsepower) and 400 pound-feet of torque, powers the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV.
  • GM begins selling the 2014 Spark EV this summer in California and Oregon.

WHITE MARSH, Maryland — General Motors started production this week of what it says is the first electric-vehicle drive motor to be designed and manufactured in the United States by a domestic automaker. The electric motor sits under the hood of the battery-powered 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV.

Company executives on hand here at this Baltimore-area transmission plant that also produced GM's "Two-Mode" electric-motor-within-a-transmission hybrid system for full-size SUVs, said GM believes a strategy for future success with all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in part lies with developing and maintaining engineering competency for electric motors.

The manufacturing process for the intricate and sophisticated electric motor is for now a unique blend of automated processes and hand assembly. Touring the production area here, many would consider the electric motor's high degree of hand assembly second only to fully hand-built specialty gasoline engines for exotic or quasi-exotic vehicles manufactured by companies such McLaren and Mercedes-AMG. And GM itself has an operation to hand-build V8 engines for performance cars.

The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV powered by the new electric motor built here may not be a performance car in the vein of those brutes, but it will perform with spirit. The company hasn't released final technical data for the car, but said the electric motor generates about 130 horsepower and a V8-like 400 pound-feet of torque. It's good enough for a 0-60 mph dash of less than 8 seconds, GM said in a release.

Chuck Russell, vehicle chief engineer for the Spark EV and the Chevy Volt, went one better, telling Edmunds: "We've said 'under 8 seconds' zero to 60 for the Spark EV — and it won't be 7.9."

Engineers and developers went to great pains to wring extra efficiency and reliability from the new electric motor. The copper wires that create a definitively artistic form in the motor's rotor are not round, but instead specially stamped to a rectangular shape, improving efficiency and reducing electrical resistance.

Pete Savagian, GM's general director for electric drive systems, said the company's goal was to make the motor particularly efficient, while also employing an industry-leading low gear-reduction in the attached planetary-gearset transmission. Savagian said the motor as used in the 2014 Spark EV is about 85 percent efficient in city driving and 92 percent efficient on the highway.

GM has yet to release critical metrics such as the expected driving range from 2014 Spark EV's lithium-ion battery pack — or the exact energy density of that battery pack — but the new drive motor's efficiency will help the Spark EV to have one of the market's leading driving ranges, engineers predict. The car will compete directly with the likes of the battery-powered 2013 Fiat 500e and the Nissan Leaf.

Company representatives here would not say how many of the new electric motors GM plans to manufacture. The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV goes on sale early this summer in California and Oregon, with sales expanding to Canada, Europe and South Korea (where the Spark EV is assembled) at a later date.

Edmunds says: GM has set its sights on developing in-house design competency for one of the most critical components for electrified vehicles.

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