US Electric Motor Company Looks To China For Funding

Political winds have blown against some federal funding being approved for advanced-tech startups, and as it turns out, China is picking up the slack as a financier for electric vehicle companies originally based in the U.S.

A few companies have looked to this Asian country after their funding request has been rejected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) – and some, according to Alysha Webb’s ChinaEV Blog, went straight to China for funding, without bothering to apply with the DOE.

Michigan-based Protean Electric Inc. is one such company as CEO Bob Purcell boldly told Alysha, saying, “we are the fastest path to high volume application of hybrid systems in the world.”

Believing their business case was strong from the get-go, Purcell said Protean went directly to private investors.

Some of those investors, looking for proven – or at least well developed and engineered technologies – happened to be located in China.

On July 9, Protean announced it had received $84 million in new funding from GSR Ventures, New Times Group, Oak Investment Partners and the city of Liyang, Jiangsu Province, China. This capital will be used to bring Protean’s breakthrough electric drive technology to production by establishing manufacturing facilities in Liyang.

This funding is led by GSR Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Beijing and Silicon Valley. They are joined by the New Times Group, a Liyang-based industrial group. Oak Investment Partners, Protean’s first venture investor, is also participating in this round of funding. The city of Liyang is partnering to provide prototype manufacturing support, with favorable industrial policy.

With the help of this infusion of cash, Protean Electric will begin prototype motor production early next year in China volume production is expected in 2014.

Protean Electric developed and manufactures the Protean Drive, a fully integrated, in-wheel motor, direct-drive solution.

The company has developed multiple demonstration vehicles, including a Ford F150 pick-up truck, Volvo C30, Vauxhall Vivaro cargo van, Guangzhou Automobile Company Trumpchi, and BRABUS full electric and hybrid vehicles, based on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and were featured at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show.

In her article, Webb pointed out none of companies she spoke with had been tested to the point of having high-volume production. As such, assuming Brabus or another company so funded succeeds, U.S. firms can also pay up and use it, so by her reckoning China is actually doing the U.S. a favor.

Features of Protean Electric’s in-wheel motors include:

• Fuel economy improvements up to 30 percent depending on battery size

• Highest torque density of any of today’s leading electric propulsion systems

• 81 kw (110 horsepower) and 800 Nm (590 pound-feet torque) in each motor

• Weight of only 31 kg (68 pounds) per motor

• Fits within the space of a conventional 18- to 24-inch road wheel

• Superior regenerative braking capabilities, which allow up to 85 percent of the available kinetic energy to be recovered during braking

Protean seems to be keeping its goal realistic. Purcell told Alysha Protean is aiming to produce 100,000 motors annually. When you consider each vehicle will incorporate between two and four of those in-wheel electric motors, one quickly understands Protean expects to take it step by step.

Alysha Webb’s ChinaEV Blog

  • John K.

    “Weight of only 31 kg (68 pounds) per motor”


    Adding 68#/wheel — what will that huge increase in unsprung weight do to vehicle dynamics?

    Think of going over potholes, or a SUV going off road, w/those heavy wheels….

    Color me highly skeptical.

  • Roy_H

    Yeah, this would about double the weight of the wheel. But he says this is manageable, and I would think inconcequential in a truck or SUV. Only becomes an issue in a sports car.

    Reliability has got to be tough to achieve in an environment that is impacted by bumps and pot holes, vibration must be severe. I would have to see reliability proven over several years before taking a chance. They could mitigate this with a very strong warranty that guarantees replacement no matter what.

  • Anonymous

    interesting project. could be very promising. too bad china will have the rights if successful.

    as far as vehicle dynamics is concerned, i see it as a plus given the wheels could replace the engine/electric motor and lower the overall center of gravity. weight distribution could be more evenly divided as well between the front and the back (depending if it is 2WD or 4WD).

    in terms of weight, the key question would have to be the engine/electric motor it will eventually replace. if the weight of the power plant it replaces is greater than the wheels, this would be a huge advancement and additional boost in efficiency.

    reliability is always a real concern with start-up products.

  • perfectapproach

    Unsprung weight is a huge issue. To counter the reliability argument, brake calipers and other brake parts have been living unsprung for a long time. But electric motors are probably a different story. I’m guessing they won’t tolerate the abuse.

    I’m just surprised that nobody has thought to keep the electric motor unsprung, and just connect the axis of the motor to the wheel with a couple of U-joints. Similar to the system that front-wheel drive currently uses, only each wheel has its own electric motor. This would allow for the use of larger motors.