Protean Electric Is Latest to Try In-Wheel Electric 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

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.