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GM to Produce Electric Motors at Baltimore Plant

GM says overall investment in the facility amounts to $246 million, $105 million of which comes from a U.S. Department of Energy grant.

DETROIT – General Motors Co. will manufacturer electric motors for its next-generation 2-mode hybrid-electric vehicles due in 2013 at its Baltimore Transmission Plant in White Marsh, MD, a source familiar with the production plan tells Ward’s.

The move is expected to add 200 jobs at the plant, which currently employs 200 workers and assembles first-generation 2-Mode transmissions for HEV versions of the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs and Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. The plant also builds conventional medium-duty truck transmissions.

An official announcement on the sourcing strategy is expected later today.

While GM officials won’t confirm the location, they say plant investment will total $246 million, $105 million of which comes from a U.S. Department of Energy grant the auto maker received in August to expand U.S. manufacturing related electric-drive components.

Vice Chairman of Product Development Tom Stephens says the investment is part of GM’s overall strategy to become better versed in the workings of electrified vehicles, which will be a core technology going forward.

“When customers look at a conventional vehicle, they want improved quality, reliability, durability and fuel economy; the same things ring true for the electrification of the automobile,” Stephens says during a media briefing of the initiative here.

“In the future, electric motors might become as important to GM as engines are now,” he says. “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.”

GM is not new to electric-motor production, having contributed significant resources to the technology.

According to Peter Savagian, engineering director of hybrid and electric architecture and electric motor engineering, the auto maker has been studying the technology for the past seven years at facilities in Wixom and Pontiac, MI, as well as Torrance, CA, and Indianapolis.

And despite current financial restrictions, GM has increased the number of engineers working on the technology, he says.

“Several years ago, we had half a dozen people (involved in the technology),” he says. “We now have 100 working on electric motors, and this is after we took out people (during GM’s recent bankruptcy).”

While the auto maker is working on a number of different electrified powertrains, including a plug-in hybrid and the Volt extend-range hybrid, only motors for the next-generation 2-mode are confirmed for in-house production.

“For this application, we’ll build all of (the motors),” Stephens says of the 2-modes. “We’re not looking for two different sources. For other programs, we may buy those motors from good suppliers, or elect to make them. So program by program, we’ll decide whether to make or buy.”

GM designed its current-generation 2-mode hybrid system in conjunction with BMW AG and the former DaimlerChrysler AG, but those partners did not participate in development of the next-generation system, Savagian says.

Due to the size of the current 2-mode system, it’s only applicable to fullsize, rear-wheel-drive trucks. However, the new system, which is 25% smaller and produces 25% more power, will be able to go into any size RWD vehicle, he says, declining to reveal specific applications.

GM also is mum on expected fuel economy of the next-generation 2-mode, saying only that it will better the current system. The Tahoe Hybrid is rated at 21/22 mpg (11.0-10.6L/100 km) city/highway.

GM also declines to reveal sales projections for the second-generation 2-mode vehicles, but the current versions have seen limited demand.

In 2009, GM delivered only 590 Sierras, 980 Silverados, 1,813 Yukons and 2,107 Escalades, according to Ward’s data.

Although Savagian says GM is most pleased with the performance of the 2-mode Escalade, it’s the Tahoe which led the pack, with 3,301 deliveries in 2009.

GM initially said it would produce about 10,000 of the 2-mode systems for the ʼ08 Tahoe/Yukon, alone.

Meanwhile, Savagian says the lessons learned in the development of the EV1, an electric car produced by GM from 1996-1999, have helped the auto maker in its current drive to electrification of the automobile.

“EV1 provided a technical basis and depth to some of our engineers and some of our analysis tools,” says Savagian, who was a part of the EV1 team. “There are still a few hundred engineers in the company that worked on EV1.

“So there’s a technical basis (with the EV1), including some tools, motor controls and some elements of design methods,” he says. “I think it was a wonderful vehicle and a great learning exercise.”

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TAGS: Vehicles
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