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General Motors to keep green car technology in house

Wed, 12 Aug 2009

For the first time in its 100-year history, General Motors plans to design, develop and manufacture electric motors for its growing array of gasoline-electric hybrids and electric vehicles.

The electric motors used in GM's current lineup of hybrids are made to GM specifications by outside vendors. GM wants to bring the design and manufacturing in-house to save money and to apply its own technology to boost performance, lower weight and reduce power consumption, said Larry Nitz, GM's chief hybrid powertrain engineer.

GM, which emerged July 10 from 39 days of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with $50 billion in backing from the U.S. government, has been under intense pressure to make greener vehicles as it attempts to rebuild sales and profitability. Earlier Tuesday CEO Fritz Henderson said the Chevy Volt hybrid is expected to list an unprecedented 230 mpg under new EPA mileage standards.

The first GM-designed electric motors are likely to first appear in the second generation of the Two Mode hybrid transmission, which is currently used in GM's pickups and large sport-utilities. Buick will get a front-wheel drive version of the Two Mode transmission in an upcoming small SUV. The Two Mode transmission features two electric motors that deliver power to the wheels in both city and highway driving.

On the sidelines of a technology show and media preview of the company's 2010 lineup here at GM's sprawling proving grounds west of Detroit, product development chief Tom Stephens said GM must develop its core technologies in three areas: batteries, the control system for the electric and hybrid powertrain, and the electric motor.

GM already has a battery deal with a supplier and plans to build a plant to assemble the battery cells into packs. GM builds its own control systems for its hybrids. A proprietary motor was the last high tech item GM needed to complete its technology for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Said Stephens: "We've taken all three of these and said these are core technologies for General Motors. We've brought them inside and said we are going to have people dedicated to learning more about these three components."

Nitz said some of the money to fund the electric motor plant came from a Department of Energy grant.

Stephens declined to say where the plant to build the electric motors will be located or when it would start production. But he did say that GM would be open to working with another automaker to reduce costs and would likely sell its electric drive powertrains to other automakers, much as it does its internal combustion engines.

Stephens said GM needs its own electric drive technology so that it can have maximum flexibility to produce fuel efficient vehicles.

Said Stephens: "You can make a mild hybrid, a strong hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, a battery electric vehicle, an extended range electric vehicle, you can do just about anything you want to do with this technology."

By Richard Truett- Automotive News