GRAND BLANC, MI – Magna E-Car Systems, an electric-vehicle parts and systems supplier, opens a new $40 million plant making electric motors, inverters and electronic powertrain controllers for global customers such as Ford and Fisker Automotive.

The 66,000-sq.-ft. (6,131-sq.-m) factory joins three other Magna E-Car facilities in North America and two in Europe working on auto maker hybrid-electric and EV programs.

Magna E-Car was formed in 2008 when the global parts-making giant purchased BluWave Systems to expand into the alternative-propulsion business, a personal project of Magna founder Frank Stronach.

The company supplies the bits and pieces for HEV and EV powertrains, such as inverters for the Fisker Karma extended-range EV, as well as complete alternative-propulsion systems such as the one provided for the Ford Focus EV.

The Grand Blanc site employs about 95 people, working one shift, and should be shipping 500,000 parts annually by the end of the year. By 2017, the facility should be building some 1.5 million parts annually and employ about 500 people.

A matching grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Recovery Act funds supported Magna’s investment at the plant here, located about 60 miles (100 km) north of Detroit.

The facility is evidence that the DOE’s role in funding the EV industry, which has come under fire recently, has its successes.

“We’re happy to provide (the DOE) this silver lining to other unsuccessful ventures,” says Gary Meyers, vice president and general manager of Magna E-Car Components. He also serves as the unit’s product development chief. “We’re putting the money to good use.”

Staffing the Magna E-Car plant has proved challenging, company officials say. About 80% of new operators quit within the first week of employment, put off by work not entirely different from a traditional vehicle-assembly or parts-making plant.

Engineering and technical talent also has been hard to come by, Meyers says. Magna E-Car has doubled its number of engineers and technicians in the past two years, and the unit employs a dozen recruiters searching for more talent to hire.

“The products we make here are very sophisticated from an electronics standpoint, so even operators need a high skill level,” Meyers says.

Magna E-Car has taken the somewhat unconventional approach of promoting veteran operators off the assembly line to fill technical positions. “What better opportunity than to use someone who started on the shop floor,” he says.

The Focus EV and Fisker Karma EREV are primary customers for the facility, although a variety of global OEMs soon will source components from there.

The manufacturing operations are divided into two parts, electronics and motor assembly. Both areas are clean sites, so workers and visitors must don smocks, hairnets or caps and anti-electrostatic shoes.

The electronics area makes powertrain controllers and inverters, which the supplier can scale to customer specifications to accommodate a range of HEV and EV applications.

All circuit-board and inverter assembly is performed on site, and the products are being manufactured at a 97% success rate. Company officials expect to achieve closer to 100% soon, crediting multiple quality checks that test for as many 400 different items during the production process.

Magna E-Car splits its motor-assembly area into two spaces for stator and rotor production, before marrying the two pieces together.

The facility builds about 10,000 pieces annually on one shift, with capacity to grow to 30,000 pieces annually on three shifts.

Both the electronic and motor-assembly areas, designed to Magna E-Car’s specifications by Michigan-based suppliers such as Dane Systems and Flexible Automation, allow for rapid expansion of the assembly line and additional workstations in anticipation of an uptick in HEV and EV demand.

jamend@wardsauto.com