General Motors begins production today in Maryland of electric motors and drive units for the ’14 Chevrolet Spark battery-electric vehicle, which goes on sale in the U.S. in the coming weeks.

GM considers the ramp-up significant because it becomes the first U.S.-based auto maker to build its own electric motors and drive units in America. The 13-year-old plant in Baltimore received a $135 million investment in 2010 to retool for the parts.

But the start of production also reflects the auto maker’s bullishness toward electrified vehicles, because GM chooses to make the parts itself instead of sourcing them from a supplier in its goal to build 500,000 electrified cars and trucks annually worldwide by 2017.

The auto maker considers this capability a core engineering competency, says Larry Nitz, executive director-vehicle electrification engineering at GM.

“Electric-motor development and manufacturing is a critical area of expertise GM has mastered as we grow our portfolio of electric vehicles to address the needs of our global customers,” he says in a statement.

Not unlike the internal-combustion engine powering conventional vehicles, well-engineered and reliable electric motors can provide BEVs with desirable attributes, such as smooth operation at low speeds and turbocharger-like boosts of power at higher speeds.

The permanent magnet electric motors installed in the drive unit produce 100 kW (130 hp) and 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) of torque, sending the Spark BEV from 0-60 mph (95 km/h) in less than 8 seconds.

GM says by making the electric motors in-house, it also keeps a lid on costs. The auto maker has not released range figures for the Spark BEV or pricing, although it has said the car will cost about $25,000 with government rebates.

The Spark BEV initially will launch in California and Oregon before sales expand to Canada, Europe and South Korea, where the electric car and the conventionally powered model are built.

jamend@wardsauto.com