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This paper presents a novel controller design for a permanent magnet synchronous motor in a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle using DTC-SVM (Direct Torque Control-Space Vector Modulation) technique with sliding mode controllers. In order to adapt complicated driving environment and improve the robustness of the system, PI-based torque-load angle and speed controllers in the traditional DTC-SVM control scheme are replaced by sliding mode controllers. The stability and robustness of the proposed control system are analyzed. A computer simulation model is developed to verify the effectiveness of the proposed control system. The simulation results illustrate that fast response and small toque ripples are achieved using the proposed control scheme. It is also shown that the control system is robust against load variations, measurement errors and parameter uncertainty. The proposed control scheme is suitable for control of the propulsion motor applied to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.