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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.