Kamenetz said he's optimistic about the Spark EV's potential after test-driving one of the sky-blue models parked outside the building Tuesday. He thinks GM, which plans to sell in only two states at first, is underestimating its likely domestic appeal.

"I have to tell you, I got into it thinking that it would be just be one of these typical subcompacts, but I got out of it recognizing that this is truly a car of the future," Kamenetz said.

The Spark EV starts with the push of a button, runs quietly and can go from zero to 60 mph in under eight seconds.

Tiger waited for a break in the test drives Tuesday, and then said, "Can I try it?" He said he hadn't yet, even though it's his plant that makes the motors. Given the opportunity, he hit the accelerator and zipped off.

Though Tuesday was the official launch, workers began making the motors months ago — first in production trials, then switching to salable versions in February.

Tuesday morning, machines in the robot-heavy plant kept up a steady din as copper wire, laminated steel and other parts came together into 75-pound motors. Stephanie Spivey, a rotor assembly technician from Ellicott City, gave visitors a demonstration of the work she began doing only recently.

"The new technology is very interesting," said Spivey, who joined GM three months ago.

Once built, the motors go to the transmission plant to be assembled into drive units, then on to South Korea, where the cars are assembled.

Tiger, who manages the entire 250-employee operation in White Marsh, said GM generally builds cars in the markets where they'll be sold. There's clear demand for subcompact cars in Asia, he said.

"We're going to find out what the acceptance is … in the States," he said.

Fred Swanner, president of UAW Local 239, which represents GM workers in White Marsh, said the Spark EV motor could go into other vehicles, including hybrids. He'd like to see the "exciting" new technology succeed. And spawn more jobs.

"Right now, it's a small production," he said. "We're hoping that will expand."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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