PASADENA, CA — The company's name has become so ingrained in our business lexicon that we forget “motor” is a big part of what General Motors Corp. is all about. So GM's Powertrain Div. — the motor people at GM — has taken upon itself the task of reminding the public that GM's ladle dips into a pretty deep pot when it comes to motor-making heritage.

Times have changed since Buick Motors was GM's first division — these days, people typically say “engine” when referring to an automotive powerplant. But GM's here in California to underscore the fact that the company isn't just about automotive engines: it's an engine-supplying force in a wide and unusual array of other industries.

How else would I be running an industrial carry deck crane that can lift a nine-ton load, fit it on its “deck” like some Blade Runner-esque beetle, and 4-wheel steer it to someplace else? ‘Cause it's powered by a modified GM Vortec 3L automotive V-6, that's why. Dual fuel, too: gasoline or liquid propane gas (LPG).

The friendly fellow offering carry-deck craning lessons says the market isn't anything like the loads they handle — a trim 450 units or so annually — but since the mongo 20-tonners top out at $170,000, somebody's doing okay, I suppose. These giraffes of burden typically last 25 years, too, so nobody's too worried about spy photos of next year's models.

I would've really had fun with the Hoist Liftrucks (overstuffed forklifts to us non-longshoremen), but Bryan Blankenship, regional sales manager for prominent industrial forklift-maker Elwell-Parker, wasn't offering any test drives: his “baby” lift truck weighs in at 10 tons and would've gouged trenches in the asphalt if we dared to creep from its parking spot.

Mr. Blankenship says all non-diesel engines for his fork trucks are supplied by GM, which makes GM and Elwell-Parker's customers happy clams. GM's Vortec 4300 — set up to run on gasoline, LPG and compressed natural gas — powers the small units. The drive-by-wire gargantuans lift 75 tons in paper and steel mills by virtue of the big-block Vortec 8100 V-8.

“GM has become the engine of choice,” for industrial-equipment customers, says Mr. Blankenship. “You've got to have this engine to play ball.” The fact that GM itself is the biggest customer in this market of 600 to 800 annual units may influence that “playing ball” climate, though.

No matter who it is, customers like the fact that servicing doesn't require deep pockets or a physics degree.

“There are no proprietary parts on these engines,” he crows. “The customer can buy every part at Auto Zone.”

GM Powertrain's most prolific business, though, is in the marine industry, where it supplies an astonishing 98% of the market's gasoline engines. The guy driving (flying?) the swamp boat says that easy servicing and dependability are the key aspects that drive the industry to GM engines.

He's probably right on the mark, there: Dependability means the difference between skimming or swimming through alligator-infested swamps.

I'll take skimming.