Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is "Full" Four Wheel Drive Coming?

Michigan Company Develops
In-Wheel Electric Motor

By Tiffany Kaiser,

Preproduction starts in 2013 while full commercial production is set to begin in early 2014.  A Michigan technology company has developed what could possibly be a new feature for electric vehicles (EVs) – in-wheel electric motors.

Protean Electric, a Michigan-based tech company, is on its way to producing compact wheels for EVs that have electric motors inside of them instead of using conventional systems, which utilize larger motors to power a transmission or axles in order to move the wheels.

The in-wheel motors weigh 68 pounds and are 18 inches in diameter. They offer 110 HP and 598 lb-ft of torque. There is also a 24-inch version for more power.

The motors' anatomy consists of a permanent magnet at the center and the rotor on the outside for easy attachment to the wheels. Power electronics and inverters are located between these two, four to eight submotors make up the complete package. Typically, two to four of these complete motors are used on a vehicle.

The wheels can be used on either all-electric vehicles or hybrid plug-in vehicles. They are compact, lightweight wheels that can be used for retrofitting existing vehicles and for newly designed EVs as well.

Protean Electric received funding for the latest EV wheels from Chinese investor GSR Partners in the sum of $84 million. The wheels will be made in-house for now, but the company plans to eventually license the technology to larger manufacturers so they can be produced in higher numbers.

The motors will be built in a manufacturing center in Liyang, China, where the plan is to produce 50,000 motors per year. Pre-production starts in early 2013, while full commercial production is set to begin in early 2014.

Back in 2008, Michelin developed what it called the Active Wheel, which housed the motor, brake, and suspension inside the wheel.

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Note by the Blog Author

This system would allow for four-wheel drive electric vehicles with independent motors for each wheel as well as independent suspension for all four wheels.  This could usher in a distinct advance in four wheel drive vehicles, with virtually no skidding and "grippier" adhesion to the road as well as a superior traction (wheel-by-wheel instead of axle by axle) on slippery surfaces.

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