Protean Continues Campaign for In-Wheel Electric Motors

Why is it that some of the best ideas for automotive efficiency never reach the market? For example, the concept of putting electric motors directly into wheels has been proposed many times over the years—but has not yet seen the light of day. The latest company to give it a go is Protean Electric. The company is showing off its technology in the form of a Vauxhall Vivaro hybrid truck this week at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich.

Protean claims that the in-wheel motor approach could improve the efficiency of a hybrid by 300 percent, and allow for relatively easy conversion of gas-powered cars into hybrids. Each motor weighs about 70 pounds and offers 110 horsepower. The motors could provide the capacity to drive purely on electricity, as well as assist the gas engine or remain dormant.

The company claims the product will be ready for mass production as soon as 2012. But take a look at the long list of other concepts using in-wheel motors that are still sitting on the shelves of R& D departments.

Michelin Active Wheel

The Michelin tire 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. Michelin presented two vehicles, the Venturi Volage and Hueliz Will, using the Active Wheel at the 2008 Paris Auto Show.

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. In 2008, Venturi said the Volage is slated for a limited production run in 2012.

Heuliez Will

Heuliez Will

The Michelin-Heuliez-Orange Will concept also uses the Michelin Active Wheel. It’s a front-wheel drive all-electric vehicle that seats five, and features front and rear trunks. Drivers will be able to choose from four different wheel packages, with driving ranges from about 100 to 250 miles. The Will was slated for production in France by 2010, but is now in the TBD category.

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

In its early incarnation, the Mitsubishi MiEV (not simply called the “i”) was 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 pulled the electric motors from the wheels.

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.

What company provided the in-wheel electric technology to Volvo? Protean Electric.


  • Charles

    I saw Protean’s all electric in wheel motor Ford F-150 at the Plug In convention in Raleigh last month. It was impressive. 240 continuous HP, with a peak of 452 HP.

    I still think axle motors are a better idea, but I seem to be the only one.

  • Knarf

    Nope, you are not the only one. The motors haven’t made it to prime time because they create so many problems and solve so few. It’s a huge cost increase for single digit efficiency gains. Their ability to take the abuse of interacting directly with every little irregularity on the road is uncertain and wow what an expensive carpart to beat to death over every pothole and bump. Axle motors are a much better idea and are making into vehicles as I type.

    Hub motors, just another stupid idea that won’t quite go away…

  • James Davis

    If people would get this idea out of their heads that they need enough trunk space where they can take their whole house with them wherever they go, there could be a small electric engine placed in the back and a small electric engine placed in the front that would give a lot of horsepower and get longer distance between charges; the battery could run the full length of the car underneath. Since this idea has worked on twin engine airplanes and its fuel in its wings for close to a hundred years, why wouldn’t it work on autos with electric motors? You could even build the electric motor right onto, or into, the axles instead of the wheels and a good shock absorber would stop the shake when you hit pot holes.

    Until the big auto makers in America retrain themselves in the new technologies and totally redesign the vehicle, we will be stuck with the old fossil looking vehicle that works like the old fossil vehicle and continue to get really crappy millage.

  • Shines

    I have to agree with Knarf. In an ideal world where potholes don’t exist and all roads are nice and smooth the in-wheel motor would work great. I suspect that is why Mitsubishi changed their minds (after some real world testing?) and took the motors out of the wheels of the MiEV.

    PS: I love the aerodynamics of the Elektromobil. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. ;-b

  • ACAGal

    I can think of a weather weakness: What happens when the electric motor goes through water (as in flooding)?

  • marwan

    HI

    please I have van Hyundai h1 worked in benzene .
    I want my van to be work in electric wheel motor and benzene
    then please .
    how much is one wheel motor with inverter and controller and des battery . thank you

  • marwan

    HI

    please I have van Hyundai h1 worked in benzene .
    I want my van to be work in electric wheel motor and benzene
    then please .
    how much is one wheel motor with inverter and controller and des battery . thank you

  • Ebird

    I don’t think its a stupid idea. Long ago everybody said man couldn’t fly…but we now take it for granted. It’s a very good idea (the wheel motors). The solution is out there. What I think is that the current technology is not yet available. Probably if the motors get smaller and more powerful..it will happen. We just need the pioneering spirit with dreams. Leave the nay sayers alone.

  • andone

    I always thought that electric cars are the future. If we use them, we will protect the environment against the pollution. Because of this result I am thinking to buy an electric car next year. Now I have a car class b rv, I am very happy with it and I am hoping that until next year the company will release an electric version.

  • Anonymous

    I’m all for the in-wheel motor idea. I can convert my car by dumping my current engine and drive train. Then adding for bolt on in-wheel motors, independent rear suspension, and a ford focus electric battery pack or a tesla motors battery pack. I still have the what if it floods question though.

  • Steve123t

    In-wheel motors/hub drives are already here. The Army has been using them since the 80’s because they are reliable, durable and they work. The railroad industry uses them (diesel/electric) because they are powerful and efficient. The Navy uses Serial-hybrids (generators to drive electric motors) because they are powerful, reliable and efficient.
    The only question is scaling them down for personal vehicle use. And that is now not a question but only a matter of time. Its coming no matter what the haters say.
    Efficiency and cost effectiveness will win. Single ICE drive for personal vehicles will fade as OEMs tarck how to make a profit from the change.
    Europe and China will beat us to the punch if we cannot get over our American arrogance. I’ve lived in three other countries and seen how readily they adopt what works even if it means change.
    We have the chance to run them into the ground (business wise) in the hybrid market.
    I hope we don’t miss the opportunity staring us in the face.

  • jon

    i have some ideas for a power generation for vehicles, would love to talk to this company and maybe help them build a prototype to make these cars not have to plug in.

  • tapra1

    . Each motor weighs about 70 pounds and offers 110 horsepower. The motors could provide the capacity to drive purely on electricity, as well as assist the gas engine or remain dormant.Engg Blog

  • InHubMotorMan

    Jon,
    Your idea of generating power for plug-in vehicles may be similar to our own. eMail me for swapping notes!
    We are Energy Consultants to OEM’s in pure EV’s & Hybrids.

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  • ramon

    The advantages of in-wheels are more than those listed here :
    they allow for a far more efficient traction control systems and active suspension – totally in software. They also add nothing to the weight of the vehicle, as they weigh basically the same as the parts they replace – probably saves 150 pounds. Contrary to some misinformation provided here, in wheel electric motors are no more unreliable than
    motors mounted in other locations. In-wheels provide for all-wheel drive in a more elegant fashion, and can provide far more horsepower
    than a single electric motor. It all comes down to cost. Otherwise there is no good reason for using anything else.

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