General Motors is getting ready to roll out the Chevrolet Spark EV, the all-electric car it is bringing to the market this summer for under $25,000 (after a $7,500 federal tax credit).
While the Spark is built in South Korea, GM decided to built its motors in the United States, at a brand new facility at its plant in Whitemarsh, Baltimore.
The Spark EV is billed as a city car, with a 0 to 60 mph time of under eight seconds. GM has not announced its range yet, but it promises the ability to charge its battery up to 80% in just 20 minutes.
For the opening of the new facility, GM invited us down to Baltimore to see how its employees and a fleet of 27 robots build the motors that will power the new Spark.
The body of the Spark has not been greatly modified for the new electric model. GM chose it for electrification because it is light enough to be moved by a small motor, and its body is relatively aerodynamic.
This is a partially-built rotor, the part of the motor that moves, thanks to a magnetic field. Those small black things arranged in triangles are magnets. There are about 400 in each rotor.
Two GM employees showed us how long it takes to install them by hand — about 40 minutes. That's why a robot does it, in just 10 minutes. Then epoxy is added, to keep everything in place and reduce noise and vibration.
These robots, which resemble moving arms, bend copper wires into nine different shapes. The wires are square, rather than round, so they fill space more efficiently.
Because the task requires flexibility and variation, it's done by a human. Plant employees follow detailed, step-by-step directions to make sure they're properly installed.
The ends of the wires are trimmed so they line up perfectly, and are then welded together. This process happens inside a machine, so GM employees monitor it via a live video feed.
The process takes about eight minutes for each rotor. The machines rarely mess up — an employee said he has only seen it happen once.
Here's me getting ready to bolt a rotor into place. The drill is connected to a computer that tells you exactly what to do.
The finished product comes back to the US, where it's scheduled to go on sale on the West Coast this summer, for under $25,000.
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