From Shipping Yards to Electric Cars: How Baltimore’s Economy is Changing

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GM’s upcoming electric car, the Chevrolet Spark EV will get around 119 mpg, and may just be the future of the U.S. auto industry. (Certainly some people think so.) And as of last month, its motor is being produced in GM’s car parts plant in White Marsh.

The White Marsh factory was chosen because it already has experience building GM’s two-mode hybrid transmissions since 2008 — and because there aren’t a whole lot of car parts plants left on the Eastern Seaboard. In 2010, experts estimated that GM would be investing $250 million in the region in order to get this engine built. “That’s a lot of money just to build one electric motor for one compliance car, and is hardly justified by the low volumes of Spark EVs GM needs to sell comply with California zero-emission rules,” notes electric car expert John Voelcker, who surmises that GM probably has “much bigger plans” for the engine than just this car. Which would be great news for White Marsh (and, by extension, Baltimore).

Currently, around two dozen workers are employed in building the engines. (27 robots are also involved.) They each had six months of training at a pilot plant in Michigan in order to build the engine for the Spark, an electric minicar that will be able to go from 0 to 60 mph in under 8 seconds.

“By designing electric motors in Michigan and manufacturing them [outside] Baltimore,” plant manager Bill Tiger told Green Car Reports, “GM controls the design, materials and production processes, as well as reducing costs and improving performance, quality, reliability and manufacturability.” The cars themselves are assembled at the GM plant in South Korea.

While job growth at the plant hasn’t been as swift as predicted, most people still consider it a boon for the region.”I think the long term is very much working toward electric vehicles gaining market share,” Anirban Basu, head of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm, told the Baltimore Sun. “For the region to gain a foothold in that emerging segment is very important.”

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