GM Motor and Stator

An electric traction motor (right) and stator (left) at the GM’s Powertrain Engineering Development Center.

General Motors said on Tuesday it will set up a $246 million facility to build electric motors to power future hybrids. The first GM-designed and built electric motors would appear in 2013 in rear-wheel-drive two-mode hybrid vehicles.

“In the future, electric motors might become as important to GM as engines are now,” said Tom Stephens, GM vice chairman, global product operations. “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.”

Stephens said the homegrown GM motors would also be more affordable and reliable, as well as easier to manufacture. GM’s investment in electric motor technology is supported by a $105-million grant awarded by the US Department of Energy in August.

More Two-Mode Hybrids on the Way

The announcement signals GM’s long-term commitment to its two-mode hybrid system, which so far has only been applied to large SUVs and pickup trucks, such as the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and Chevy Silverado Hybrid. According to the company, new electric motors will enable GM to apply the two-mode hybrid system to smaller vehicles. The new motors would be smaller but offer more power density.

The first set of motors produced in-house will go to the two-mode hybrids, but GM is not ruling out making motors for the Chevy Volt and future pure electric vehicles. Currently, the company is building lithium ion battery packs for the Volt at a refurbished Michigan factory by assembling lithium ion cells supplied by South Korea’s LG Chem.