Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Does GM's new performance lab, colocated with electric motor lab, mean future electric race cars from GM?

GM's announcement today that they'd opened a new "state-of-the-art" facility for designing engines and gearboxes for race vehicles might make you wonder why it's being covered on Electric Race News.  The reason why is this:  "General Motors today began construction of a state-of-the-art facility for race engine design and development, as well as an electric motor laboratory and gear center."

The phrase in bold, "an electric motor laboratory," is making me scratch my head and go "hmmm...?"  What's really going on.

The press release talks about something that's a core reason why I'm covering electric racing:  "GM’s continued investment in motorsports comes from the time-tested belief that racing is the ultimate proving ground for much of the technology that applies to the vehicles GM sells."

The way I see it, the electric motorcycle racing scene has been very good for electric motorcycle development.  In 2009 the state of electric motorcycling was pretty poor, and dominated by home built machines of wildly varying quality.  Today we have Zero and Brammo duking it out for dominance, both offering excellent motorcycle designs, and in both cases they've used their racing activities to gather useful data for their production electric motorcycles.  And it wasn't just those two, other companies were in the same boat, with Lightning Motorcycles and Mission Motorcycles both doing some kind of production runs.

But - GM hasn't shown any sign in the past of involvement with electric racing.  It's not clear from the press release that locating an electric motor design lab alongside racing engine design labs mean that GM is exploring anything to do with electric racing.

Here's what the press release says
Engineers at the GMPRC will work on powertrain-related projects for GM’s involvement in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Pirelli World Challenge, NHRA (COPO Camaro Program) and Global Rally Cross.

The Chevrolet and Cadillac racing teams have seen much track success. Since its inception in 1999, Corvette Racing has won 10 manufacturer titles in GT competition and 92 global wins, including seven prestigious class wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Team Cadillac, since 2004, has amassed 24 wins, 82 podium finishes and 20 pole positions. The team won the World Challenge Manufacturer Championship in 2005, 2006, 2012 and 2013.
Nothing about electric racing - it's all about gasoline driven racing.  GM also took over as the Engine manufacturer for the IndyCar series.  As I recall, Honda had that role back in 2010.  That series is driven on Ethanol, so it means GM is gaining a lot of expertise in running high performance engines on biofuels.  When I asked Honda's VP overseeing their IndyCar involvement whether that rolled over to Honda's retail vehicles sales, he said "No."  Maybe this, too, means nothing to GM's design of biofuel-capable vehicles?

As for the electric motor and gear labs:
In addition to the performance and racing engineering, the new facility will house an electric motor lab and a gear center.

The electric motor lab produces prototype electric motors and validates manufacturing processes used in the production of electric and hybrid vehicle motors. Electric motor engineering, design and validation are core competencies for GM in the development, sourcing and manufacturing of electric vehicles and their major components.

The gear center supports design, manufacturing processes, inspection techniques and testing of gears used primarily in the next generation of GM transmissions.
Taking this on face value, it means nothing more than Management decided to colocate these two labs for some other reason than doing something about electric racing.  It's just a coincidence.


Nissan, for example, has developed the ZEOD RC as a plug-in hybrid electric race car.  With it they plan to enter this years 24 Hours of Le Mans.  This forward thinking is commendable.  Does GM have anything like this up their sleeve?

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