GM to Build Electric Motors for Hybrid Cars in Maryland

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Foreseeing a bright future in electric and hybrid vehicles, General Motors said Tuesday it will spend $246 million to expand a Baltimore-area factory to manufacture electric motors for its next generation of large hybrid vehicles beginning in 2013. The project will result in an additional 200 jobs at the plant, which currently makes transmissions for GM's full-size hybrid trucks, such as the Chevrolet Silverado.GM received a grant of $105 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to aid in the plant's construction. The company still plans to buy some electric motors from outside suppliers, USA Today reported. But according to GM Vice Chairman Tom Stephens, by designing and building its own technologies, the automaker will be better equipped to determine which other manufacturers' products best suit its needs.

In making this investment, GM shows clearly that it's expecting electric and hybrid vehicles to play a large role in helping it achieve the new fuel economy standards mandated by the Obama administration. The current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard is 27 miles per gallon, but automakers will be required to reach fleet averages of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

"In the future, electric motors might become as important to GM as engines are now," Stephens said in a statement. "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's announcement comes a day before the start of the Washington Auto Show on Wednesday.

The automaker is eager to show the U.S. government -- and the taxpayers -- that it's moving ahead with its plan to become viable once again. Speaking Monday, CEO Ed Whitacre said GM would repay its debt to both the Canadian and U.S. governments in full by June. The company owes Uncle Sam some $6.7 billion.

Ford Explorer Settles Down in Chicago

Also making news Tuesday, Ford Motor (F) said Chicago will be the home of the next generation Ford Explorer mid-size SUV, creating 1,200 jobs in the region. The company said it will invest nearly $400 million to update its Chicago assembly and stamping plants.

Ford said the new Explorer will get at least 25% better gas mileage than the current model thanks to new engine and transmission designs, as well as a lighter body. Among new technologies the Explorer will debut are inflatable seat belts, an industry first. Designed to protect rear-seat occupants such as children and older adults, the safety devices spread the force caused by a crash across five times more body area, reducing pressure on the chest, and controlling head and neck movement.

More details about the new Explorer will emerge later this year, Ford said.
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