Michelin Reinvents the Wheel, This Time with Motors

The Michelin tire company is getting closer to commercializing its electric wheel concept. The company has been showing off versions of the “Active Wheel” since 2004. The system contains virtually all of the components necessary for a vehicle to propel or stop: an electric motor, suspension coils and springs, and braking components. The only thing missing is the source of energy.

Fed by lithium ion batteries or fuel cells, the Active Wheel’s electric motor will output 30 kilowatts of power—per wheel that is. Vehicles using this system can be configured with two Active Wheels up front, or one at each corner. This allows manufacturers to offer both two- and four-wheel drive setups.

Key advantages include reduction of energy losses, greater all-wheel drive capabilities, better regenerative braking, and extra space. With most mechanicals out of the way or eliminated, designers can expand the cabin and possibly have two trunks, one in front and one in back. In addition, the technology offers the possibility of easier conversions of gas-powered cars to electric power.

Michelin presented two vehicles, the Venturi Volage and Hueliz Will, using the Active Wheel at the 2008 Paris Auto Show in October. While the idea of placing motors directly into wheels seems revolutionary, the concept has merely come full circle—all the way from the early days of automotive history. (This is far from a comprehensive sample of the many vehicles, mostly concepts, which use electric wheels.)

Venturi Volage

The Venturi Volage is a four-wheel drive two-seater roadster using four Active Wheel systems. The Volage, which produces the equivalent of 300 horsepower, accelerates from 0 to 60 in less than five seconds. It has a range of approximately 200 miles. The Volage is slated for a limited production run in 2012. Price has not yet been determined.

Heuliez Will

Heuliez Will

The Michelin-Heuliez-Orange Will is a front-wheel drive all-electric vehicle that seats five, and features front and rear trunks. According to Michelin, drivers will be able to choose from four different wheel packages, with driving ranges from about 100 to 250 miles. The first Will prototypes are scheduled for production in 2009, with plans for the production of a few thousand units in France by 2010.

Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil

Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil

The Paris Exposition of 1900 featured the Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil, which would later become one of the first hybrid cars. It was designed two years earlier by a 23-year-old engineer, unknown at the time, named Ferdinand Porsche. Exposition records show that Porsche’s vehicle could travel 38 miles solely on electricity. Porsche integrated battery-powered electric motors directly into the front wheel hubs, producing one of the first front-wheel drive cars. He later added an internal combustion gasoline engine to drive a generator, which charged the batteries.

Mitsubishi MIEV

Mitsubishi MIEV

The Mitsubishi MIEV is all about the electric wheels. In fact, the acronym MIEV stands for “Mitsubishi in-wheel electric vehicle.” Since introducing the car at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Show, Mitsubishi has pulled the electric motors from the wheels, but the company is still intent on bringing the all-electric vehicle to market by 2010. Expect about 75 miles of range and a top speed of 80 miles per hour.

Volvo ReCharge

Volvo ReCharge

Volvo’s ReCharge, a plug-in hybrid, made its public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007. Electric motors are housed in each wheel. The car can do 0-60 mph in about nine seconds, with a top speed of 100 mph. On a three-hour charge it will go roughly 60 miles. When the remaining battery level hits 30 percent, the gas engine recharges the battery. Drivers can also toggle manually between electric and internal-combustion modes.


  • Hal Howell

    Now, make it affordable to convert to electric and Michelin will have a winner of an idea.

  • GR

    That’s pretty amazing to think that Porsche was one of the original creators of the electric vehicles, and now his vehicles are some of the least fuel efficient out there. Hopefully we can reverse this trend back to electric, fuel efficient vehicles.

  • John K.

    My main concern is unsprung weight, which affects ride and handling. Note how there is no mention of how much each tire-wheel-motor-regen unit weighs and how much of that weight is unsprung.

  • Picky McPicky

    Now this is truly amazing technology. One of the best ideas I have seen…Detroit? Detroit? Bueller? Bueller?

  • Anonymous

    Are those A/V red and yellow inserts I see? Lol, looks good! :)

  • mogden

    sounds a little scary for reliability. Wheels are jumping and jerking all over the place.

  • jimble

    @ John K: That’s a good point, a quick search said that they’ve gotten it down to about 70-50 lbs, depending on if it has a motor or not. About 1/3 – 1/2 more the unsprung weight of a typical 16″ wheel package. So translating, it’ll be a little heavier, but not much more, than a 20″ wheel package. Anyways, compared to beam axle suspensions of yore, this is far better, so we have the best of current independent suspensions as a target to shoot for.

    @ mogden: I suspect you can leave reliability concerns where they fall, I’ve no doubt they’ve already simulated and tested the crap out of this thing; they’ve been working on this concept heavily for more than 4 years now. There’s little probability that they’ll do a production release if such issues aren’t mitigated yet.

    What Michelin has here may not be quite the final thing, but absolutely is a continued step in the right direction, we need to encourage that. Good design is a highly iterative process…

  • Matt Miller

    I wonder how it will do in snow since everything will get wet.

  • Achilles

    Take a look at:-
    http://www.avinc.com/eng_product_details.asp?Prodid=56

    The AV Impact, the prototype of the GM EV1, had two electric motors, each driving one of the front wheels. The only major change between prototype and production was the move to a single electric motor, apparently because one of the motors in the Impact locked up during a demo in front of assembled GM VPs.

    There are a host of technical and legal reasons why the Miev has moved to a single inboard motor for production. Wheel motors are theoretically attractive, and may make it in runabouts and delivery vans, but not for ‘serious’ vehicles.

  • TogetherinParis

    You need to have the motor run through the gears to spread out that narrow efficiency band of fixed hub motors. A hub motor around a Nu Vinci gear hub could work, but nobody’s building it.

  • FL

    As for unsprung weight:

    Anyone play with the idea of converting that vertical energy into electricity?

    Bring on the potholes!

  • Skeptic

    Traction motors. Been saying this for years. No more engine/transmission in the body of the car. Maybe a small ICE for charging the battery, but now you have flexibility in where to put it.

    The only thing I don’t grok is what effect this has on handling.

    Seems like when I was a kid and reading car mags, the idea was to *reduce* unsprung weight (mostly by using lighter wheels at the time).

    Clearly traction motors on the wheels adds a bunch of weight not supported by the suspension system of the vehicle.

    Beyond that, will the motor parts be able to withstand potholes?

  • Anonymous

    at least most of that unsprung weight above regular cars is not rotational(hopefully) but yes, the sports and comfort characteristics are not nearly optimal, and likely ranging close to unacceptable. it’ll work for small city cars, but sedans, sports cars, and everyone else will need a different solution. how much suspension travel can you get with what looks like a 4 inch spring? oh! maybe the wheels will be 3 feet high, the pimps will have a field day!

  • Charlie

    The comments about unsprung weight are mostly way off base. You all seem to be assuming that this will be attached to a basically normal suspension like a normal wheel and hub. Not so. You could attach this to a bogie-type carriage, or for that matter directly to a subframe. The motor, braking package, and suspension bits inside the wheel would NOT count towards unsprung weight; the wheel and tire itself would be the only unsprung weight. Everything not riding that spring is, by definition, sprung weight. This reduces the amount of travel required.

    What this all means is that the space wasted for suspensions inboard could be better used, with maybe an electric servo-ram type setup keeping the wheel bogy in position.

  • Willy Brown Balls

    I bet they have done all the appropriate tests but it wouldn’t last a week on Irish roads :(

  • Uncle B

    This is simply not going to beat the cost of public bus and train transportation! We need very cheap, very light commuter vehicles to get from terminals to home, commune or offices, we do not want highway cruisers! The America to come, after the great republican depression will not even try to manufacture goods, in light of the considerably cheaper Asian labor situation, and we will be better off not to try! Put the Michelin power wheel in a plug in, diesel or Compressed Natural Gas Hybrid with a carbon fiber and polymer composite bodied, low speed, light weight, shuttle commuter, rent them, per use, place them at bus and train terminals and lets get on with it! The personal land cruiser is dead, the American psyche about to be wounded by downsizing, and we are in for severe changes in the way we live! The Michelin power wheel is an indication of things to come! When was the last time you saw a Dusenberg going down the street, but wouldn’t we all like to own one? See you in the bar car!

  • TonyV125

    Some further details regarding Michelin’s Active Wheel can be found at the Venturi Volage website (http://www.venturivolage.fr). Once the presentation starts, click for the English version if you’re like me and can’t read French, then click on the circular highlight over the front wheel. The information is brief but it does say “2 electric motors per wheel (1 for suspension and 1 for drive)”. Reading further it gives a little more info about the “active electric shock absorber system” used with the second motor.

  • just1opinion

    Who’s going to change the tire when you get a flat?

  • swalsh

    Interesting concept but it sounds like there’s a huge potential for theft. The wheel obviously has to be removable to be able to change the tire, so what’s to stop thieves from walking off with you “engine”?
    Also, there’s a lot of bracing in the front of a car that keeps the engine from being demolished in a low speed collision. Not to mention the fact that the engine absorbs a lot of the impact in a high speed collision, keeping the passengers safer. It seems like these could be much more easily damaged in small accidents which could get pricey, and not having a front-compartment engine could compromise safety.

  • Max Reid

    Very good concept. We can have a 2-Wheel Front or Rear wheel drive or a 4 wheel Drive.

    This concept can be applied in 2-wheelers, 6-wheelers, etc.

    Hope this brings the move from internal combustion engine to electric-drive.

    Michelin tyres are the best and its a great company.

  • IWood

    Who’s “we,” Uncle B? Speak for yourself. You may have a utopian vision of a suitably chastised America that includes communes, giving up on manufacturing, the end of private ownership of vehicles, and settling for piss-poor public transport run by corrupt and wasteful bureaucracies, but you’re the minority. Your schadenfreude is palpable and unseemly.

    And before you get all self-righteous, I pedal my way to work Monday thru Friday, year round, rain or shine.

  • steved28

    @swalsh

    The entire assembly is NOT changed with a tire or wheel. It’s not like 5 lug nuts are holding the entire driveline on.

    Also, the biggest protection from a crash is NOT the engine, it’s the crumple zones which absorb the energy from an impact.

    @Charlie, great comments about unsprung weight. Most here obviously don’t understand the concept. It appears to me that the suspension built into the wheel may have to be engineered with a second suspension, much more rigid and with a longer articulation, perhaps a semi rigid A arm that the wheel mounts upon.

  • Yahooserious

    I truly hope that someone in congress has the balls to demand this kind of innovation from the three stooges (otherwise known as the “big three”) before we hand them 36 billion dollars. Hey, don’t we have a couple of wars going on?

  • allthebestofthenet.com

    I’ve been so impressed with what has been coming out lately. We have ignored electrics and hybrids and its bitten us in the butt, but we are catching up fast.

  • Mike Phillips

    If GM, Chrysler, & Ford are still begging for bailout $, where is their entry?

  • Wow

    There’s an awful lot of stupid on this page.

  • anonymous

    Uhhhhhh, no. Porsches are pretty decent on fuel economy for the type of car they are. I’ve had base model Fords that got far worse economy than any Porsche, ever made, ever. So you are, in fact, completely wrong.

  • Chris L

    About your comment of the lack of an engine being dangerous: that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
    The engine absorbs none of the impact of a crash, and can infact lead to injuries there the engine is pushed into the passenger compartment, crushing the legs of the driver. Without the engine and firewall, additional crumple zones and roll cage systems can be implemented, making a head on collision much safer.

    Although I do agree with you on the potential of theft of your wheels leaving you more high and dry than usual, as well as the problem of changing your tire when you get a flat. Unless they make the actual tire detachable from the motor itself.

  • IgniteMe

    Now all they need to add are solar panels, an electrolysis unit, fuel cells and a hydrogen storage tank…

  • vvbb

    excluding the dumb cayenne, the porsche lineup is and always has been one of the most efficient fleets of cars out there on an economy/performance ratio.

    914/6 was good for over 30 mpg and is almost certainly faster around a track than your current car, whatever that may be.

    944s of all varieties were very efficient. even the turbo would do 25+ mpg average when not being pushed on the track.

    911s aside from the turbo will average over 20mpg in real driving conditions. that’s extremely unusual for a car with 300+ hp and the capabilities those cars have.

    older 911s were much, much lighter. an old 1970s air-cooled RS model could be under 2000 lbs. so having “only 170 hp” is the equivalent of roughly 350 hp today. and they did 25 mpg.

    a well-driven boxter will average 30-33 mpg in mixed driving. If you take it on a road trip and don’t speed, say down rt 66, you’ll average over 35 or more, especially if it’s one of the first, lighter models…let’s say a 2000 boxter, non-S version.

    porsche V8s have not been so efficient, though. I’ll give you that.

  • Mark.

    For years I’ve been hoping for a sportscar that will show off the performance advantages of having an electric motor on each wheel. I’d rather see a hybrid, but even a plug-in AWD with electric-motor acceleration (aim for 0-60mph in 5.0 seconds) and good handling (I’m told that the Audi Quattro system is the thing to emulate) would do wonders for the appeal of electric and hybrid cars. For a hybrid, even 20mpg combined with such performance would be enough to open some eyes and sell some cars to serious enthusiasts. Anyone else remember the prototype hybrid HMWV from a few years back, with 18 mpg, reasonable acceleration, the ability to go 50 miles almost silently on battery power, but (sadly) crippled by the weight of its batteries? No transmission, motor on each wheel, 1.8-liter (I think) Diesel engine to recharge the batteries… what’s been holding such things back?

  • Mick Cowles

    Using potholes to charge the battery? See

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2008/11/electric-truck.html

    for an interesting discussion of this option.

  • Lee Jones

    I admit to being a total n00b, and don’t have any automotive engineering expertise to speak of, but here’s my foolish question:

    Why not have 2 in-wheel motors, in front, making the vehicle essentially front wheel drive, and develop in-wheel turbines for the rear wheels to produce electricity and recharge the batteries, extending the range or possibly making the car near-zero consumption?

  • PerfectApproach – not logged in

    Here’s why it won’t work. It’s called the Law of Conservation of Energy. Old-School physics. Take, for example, regenerative braking (which is how a lot of hybrids today help to recharge their battery power). For the newbies, this means that when the driver presses the brake pedal, instead of the brakes actually being applied, the electric drive motor turns into a big generator.

    The reason it generates electricity is easy…the wheels are turning the generator, and electricity comes out. The thing most people don’t consider is THE REASON IT SLOWS THE CAR DOWN. Generators of that size are incredibly hard to turn. A person probably could not hand-crank a generator of that size. The generator has these big magnets in them that “push back” against the rotation of the motor. When this “push-back” is overcome, a small current of electricity is generated. Multiply that by 2000 or 3000 rpm’s, and enough electricity is generated to be useful to the car’s batteries. Overcoming the “push-back” is how the car slows down.

    NOW, Lee, let’s get back to your example. You stated that we should put 2 electric MOTORS in the front to drive the car, and 2 electric GENERATORS in the back to charge the batteries. Taking what we learned from the “regenerative braking” lesson, you can see that the 2 motors would spend a CONSIDERABLE amount of energy trying to turn the 2 generators to generate electricity…and whatever was leftover would be spent to actually move the car. It would be akin to trying to drive a regular car with the parking brake on.

    What’s worse is that I haven’t even really touched on the friction of the mechanical linkages or the heat loss from using copper wires.

  • PerfectApproach – not logged in

    As a though experiment, imagine connecting a battery to a motor. And then connect the motor to a generator. And then connect the generator back to the battery. And the motor and the generator use/generate the exact same amount of electricity (in fact, you could use 2 identical motors–one of them IS a generator, wired backwards). If you flip the switch…nothing happens. Why? Because the motor is spending the SAME amount of ELECTRICAL energy trying to turn as the the amount of MECHANICAL energy needed for the generator to turn over…to overcome that “push-back.”

    You could manually turn the motor/generator assembly, and what would you see? You would see that they both DO actually turn together…after that initial push. However, you would also see them begin to slowly slow down. And the battery would slowly go dead. Why? Because energy is also lost as heat in the wires, and because heat is also lost as heat in the form of friction inside the motor and generator.

    SO, in summary, in the arrangement you describe, the electric motors would not push the car at all…they would expend all their energy trying to turn the generators.

  • perfectapproach

    So yeah…maybe I should log in now…hehehe

  • EuroPartsAmerica

    Excellent concept to have everything built into the wheel. I just wonder what consequences that has for repairs of vehicles. Sounds like the dealers might have a monopoly on the repair business for a few years before the independent repair shops can catch up with knowledge, training and tools. I also wonder if you would just replace the wheel if something goes wrong with the wheel, the motors, the brakes or the energy regeneration. Seem the car might be going the way of the consumer electronics, where if something breaks you just switch out an entire assembly or buy a new one since repairs are more expensive than a new item.

  • qrty

    Independent repair shops wouldn’t have that much trouble at all adjusting. It would force more of the employees to seek out training in electronics work but most of what is out there now is already easily dealt with. Instead of replacing complex electrics inside the passenger compartment, it’s going out to the wheels.

    We also don’t ‘repair’ sensitive electronics. We just swap out pieces as required and verify that they’re functioning properly. You don’t want some random guy at a shop busting out his soldering iron and poking around, do you?

    Wheels and other items are frequently damaged and just as easily replaced, so that’s a non-issue.

    The only things you’d need a dealership for are proprietary items like chipped keys, security system lock-outs, etc.

    The only thing that concerns me is the cost to replace/repair such objects. It would become much easier to total a car if you have a large chunk of its value sitting inside of the wheels.

  • Richard Simmons

    sounds great, untill someone kindly steals your wheels, not only do you have to pay for 4wheel, 4tyres but now you have to buy 4new engines!!

  • Uncle B

    I am truly sorry for my ignorance of blaming the recession on republicans. It’s just that I am a democrat and I feel I need a scapegoat- it just really hurts to know that it was democrats that made it so easy for me to buy a house I couldn’t afford. I was always counting on that some redistribution of wealth would bail me out– after thinking about it for a bit though, maybe taxing our country’s greatest wealth makers unfairly might make them want to leave– oh, and we would have none of their taxes– who would support me then? I really should have gone to college.

  • Zero X Owner

    Two of my vehicles crush Porsches in acceleration, but they are two-wheeled.

    Re: those who commented on durability and rugged conditions performance. My electric motorcycle motor is at the bottom of the vehicle about at the center of the wheels and does just fine with lots of off-roading and 30 foot jumps. For those who are worried about electric vehicle reliability, why don’t you get one and see for yourself? You’ll quickly learn that the maintennace costs are less than on a gasser. Until then, your comments can mostly be filed under the category “I have no personal experience in what I’m talking about.”

    Right now there are 27 highway legal models with electric drive to choose from right now (hybrids, from econoboxes to luxury performers to huge SUVs) , so you all can start to get some experience with electric drive. Then I’ll start to take you seriously.

    @ Richard Simmons: a gas engine sounds great until someone with massive skill, equipment and tools kindly disconnects it and steals it. Same deal.

    Really, the best complaint on this thread is on the unsprung weight – it’ll handle poorly or feel like a pickup truck (but I repeat myself). Thus the perfect application is on a Jeep-like off-road vehicle – high center clearance (no drivetrain, so no getting high centered – yay!) and with independent motors you could spin the thing on a dime (like a tracked tank), so you can turn around in one shot on any trail as wide as the vehicle is long. Also, massive low speed torque for those technical and steep sections. Rugged off-road is where electric drive fully dominates.

  • bobc

    Most applications of this system that I’ve seen employ the motor as a hub to which the wheel is bolted. This allows the system to be sealed in case you ,god forbid , have to drive through deep puddles or flash floods. The motor are also light in most of these applications so at most there may be less than a 10% increase in unsprung weight. PML did a 640 HP Mini and their unsprung weigh was 24Kg /wheel for their in wheel motor system vs 22Kg for a standard ICE Mini.

    I would think that appropriate drive software and instantaneous traction control would negate any negative effects from any increase in unsprung weight. Designs from other companies employ over 1000 calculations per motor and each motor communicates with a central system and the other motors to optimize traction acceleration and braking. Such parameters could even with mass sensors in the vehicle compensate dynamically for all interior mass loading. Steering can also be power assist.

    Conventional car companies have always been slow to adopt anything that challenges the status quo. They have an enormous infrastructure with billions in service centers, replacement parts, and usually a minimum of a 5 year life cycle just to pay for it all. GM made up all sorts of excuses almost to the point of knifing the baby with the EV1. If you could get an EV1 out of the Smithsonian, bring it back up to spec , throw in a 7KW modified generator in the trunk with a 10 gallon tank you would probably have a series hybrid with a 500 mile range.

  • Seth

    @Mike Phillips
    The big three dont have a submission in this category because they are using what little money they have to convert existing platforms with more proven technolgy to hybrids and PIEV’s.
    That is why they need more money, so they can actualy work on new projects like this.

  • Jurjen

    Can I bolt a pair of these wheels to the back of my front wheel drive car – throw a few batteries in the trunk and instantly have a hybrid – ie. use the electric rear wheels for regenerative braking and short city drives – the old drive can do the long haul work – and my car can fuel efficient hybrid righy now

  • jp

    uh…. what if you get a flat?!

  • energy monitoring

    Now add a small generator, or magneto to each wheel, to recharge the batteries….. outside the box? what box?????

  • milo

    very very very active

  • Bob R

    OK you say you would need to much energy to move the car, but what if you use a wind turbine where your cooling fan would be in the front grill to generate power to run the car? You would actually be able to stack multiple fans on top of each other.

  • Electric Man

    I’m preety sure the guy ment there would be a small motor somewhere to keep things going. The generators in the back wheels flor braking.

  • Homer10

    I have always felt that this is the way to go. You split up the current to the wheels by 4. The Motors can be 1/4 as big. If one blows up, you still have 3. A brush less switching DC motor would be the best. To reduce weight concentrate the drive coils to something that looks like an over sized break caliper. Using modern switching methods, you could make a motor / generator that recharges the batteries for regenerative breaking. The control system for these drive caliper coils is a common technology. For a good performance car you will need to switch 200-300 Amps peak. The higher the drive voltage, the better. Then you can drop the current. A large part of the loss in a cars drive system is in the transmission and drive train. Eliminate the drive train, and you gain power or distance.