Michigan’s EcoMotors Set to Get $18M to Develop Efficient Gas, Diesel Engines

5/18/10

Reports of the impending death of the internal combustion engine may have been greatly exaggerated if Troy, MI-based EcoMotors International has anything to say about it. A large Chinese auto supplier and a partner in Michigan have signed a letter of intent to throw $18 million at EcoMotors in return for prototypes of what the company is calling a “breakthrough” engine.

EcoMotors is set to receive the money from China-based automotive supplier Zhongding Holding Group—a large Tier 1 auto supplier with a U.S. subsidiary in Monroe, MI—and Global Optima, an engineering services company based in Allen Park, MI. EcoMotors would not say how much each company is contributing.

“They’ve been chasing us and our technology over the last year and we finally came to terms with them,” says EcoMotors CEO Donald Runkle. “What attracts them, and many customers, is basically the very unusual characteristics of this engine.”

The investment will focus on EcoMotors’ OPOC (opposed-piston, opposed-cylinder) technology for gas and diesel engines. EcoMotors says its technology will deliver up to 60 percent greater fuel efficiency than conventional engines at half the weight and size. Plus, they’re cheaper to manufacture and operate, Runkle says.

“I think this will stir things up,” Runkle says. “I mean, they’re making a lot of progress at other companies in terms of improving fuel economy, but our kicker is that we have high fuel efficiency, high power density, small size and weight, and a lower cost structure. And we feel that is the breakthrough, basically, in engine design.”

What Zhongding will receive after about a year, Runkle says, will be two prototype engines—one gas and one diesel—to show to customers and market the technology. About 90 percent of the development will happen in the Detroit area.

Global Optima, which has operations in Shanghai, will be “engaged to a very limited extent” in developing the engine in China.

“We’re building this company here in Detroit,” Runkle says. “I think the Detroit area is an ideal place to develop an engine because there’s so much supplier capability, so much design and engine knowledge in the area and, frankly, a lot of R&D assistance.”

He’s referring to the total of $63 million help EcoMotors has received from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The company employs about 30 people, with 15 additional local contractors. EcoMotors has been around since 2008, when it received an undisclosed amount in a Series A round from Khosla Ventures in Menlo Park, CA. Runkle says the company is currently attempting to raise money in a Series B round.

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