Electric Vehicles Revolutionary Wheel for Electric Cars Puts Guts Inside Wheel

Published on December 5th, 2008 | by Nick Chambers

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Revolutionary Wheel for Electric Cars Puts Guts Inside Wheel


By integrating a motor, suspension system, brakes and tire into a standalone wheel package, Michelin’s paradigm-changing “Active Wheel” technology is an innovation that could make electric cars truly affordable and practical, as well as fundamentally change the way we approach car design.

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When you’ve eliminated the need for an engine, a transmission, a drive shaft, a differential, an exhaust system, shock absorbers and a suspension system within the chassis of the car, not only can you start to imagine entirely different car shapes, you can have both front and rear “trunk” storage, have a lot more room for people in the cabin, and create new safety features to boot.

Earlier this year at the Paris Motor Show Michelin revealed the Active Wheel to the world and has since been busy firming up plans to put it in an actual car by 2010, and partnering with other companies for future cars. Granted, the first implementation of the Active Wheel technology does not win any awards for innovative exterior design, but it’s just a start.

The first production car to use the technology will be the 2010 Heuliez WILL, the result of a collaboration between Heuliez, Michelin and Orange. Michelin says the WILL has enough room for 5 people, even though it’s about the size of a compact car.

The WILL can go from 0-62 mph (0-100 km) in 10 seconds with a top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h) — making it fully highway legal. It also will have a range of 93, 186 or 248 miles (150, 300 or 400 km) on a single charge, depending on the modular battery configuration the driver chooses. Target price is around $30,000, putting it in the realm of affordability for most people.

Due to the collaboration with French telecom company Orange, the WILL has been fully wired for advanced communications options including WiFi and 3G.

Taking advantage of the fact that there’s nothing under the hood, the WILL has an extremely large crumple zone up front, prompting Michelin to claim that the WILL is “just as safe as the big cars on the road.” Additionally, the advanced electrical suspension system in the Active Wheels controls all pitching and rolling with an extremely rapid computer response time — 3/1000th of a second — which also presumably adds to the car’s safety.

The first WILLs are already on the road enduring testing and by 2010 the cars will be available for business fleets. Heuliez envisions that first-year production output will be several thousand vehicles. By 2011 Michelin and Heuliez plan on making the vehicles available to the general public.

I only hope that by then we’ve worked out a way for cars designed in the European market to be easily imported to the North American market, ’cause I might just be the first in line.

Update: Bonus video found on YouTube shows off an early concept car using the Active Wheel technology.

Source and Image Credits: Michelin


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About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.



  • Carbon Buildup

    Hey!

    This is really interesting. However, Michelin is definitely not the first company with this idea. Years ago, like sometime in the early 1980′s, Caterpillar began building giant ore-carrying trucks that were designed with a separate electric motor for each wheel. Of course those trucks were not intended to drive more than about 5 mph…however, I’m hoping that this means Michelin won’t have a patent that would completely sew up this technology.

  • Carbon Buildup

    Hey!

    This is really interesting. However, Michelin is definitely not the first company with this idea. Years ago, like sometime in the early 1980′s, Caterpillar began building giant ore-carrying trucks that were designed with a separate electric motor for each wheel. Of course those trucks were not intended to drive more than about 5 mph…however, I’m hoping that this means Michelin won’t have a patent that would completely sew up this technology.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    Problem with hub/wheel-mounted motors: if there is a mechanical failure and the motor seizes or binds, driver loses steering control – suddenly and VIOLENTLY.

    If you’ve ever been on an electric bicycle that has broken, you know exactly what I mean.

    As cool as the concept is: I call “death trap”.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    Problem with hub/wheel-mounted motors: if there is a mechanical failure and the motor seizes or binds, driver loses steering control – suddenly and VIOLENTLY.

    If you’ve ever been on an electric bicycle that has broken, you know exactly what I mean.

    As cool as the concept is: I call “death trap”.

  • Nick Chambers

    Jo,

    I’m not sure, but I imagine they’ve addressed this issue somehow in the design. If not, I can’t see how it would be certified for anything but low speed.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    One thing I’ve learned in 13 years of racing: it is almost impossible to predict how a part will fail. Granted, can certainly eliminate some variables here and there, but in the manufacturer’s (and politician’s!) rush to bring green technologies to market, I would expect the certifications are getting handed out pretty easily.

    Don’t get me wrong, the concept is sound – I’ll just wait until the 2nd or 3rd gen product to pony up my dollars.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    One thing I’ve learned in 13 years of racing: it is almost impossible to predict how a part will fail. Granted, can certainly eliminate some variables here and there, but in the manufacturer’s (and politician’s!) rush to bring green technologies to market, I would expect the certifications are getting handed out pretty easily.

    Don’t get me wrong, the concept is sound – I’ll just wait until the 2nd or 3rd gen product to pony up my dollars.

  • Michael Bryant

    I think they had electic wheels before way before this like 1940′s but they not have suspension in the wheel.

  • Michael Bryant

    I think they had electic wheels before way before this like 1940′s but they not have suspension in the wheel.

  • Cameron

    I think Jo’s concerns would be well founded in the pre-computer era, however, car companies are already implementing technologies to prevent over-stearing in current vehicles. I would think providing power independently to all four wheels would make cars more stable when integrated with such technology.

  • Cameron

    I think Jo’s concerns would be well founded in the pre-computer era, however, car companies are already implementing technologies to prevent over-stearing in current vehicles. I would think providing power independently to all four wheels would make cars more stable when integrated with such technology.

  • Snoo

    Not a sound design idea. Power plants need to be isolated from the vibration on the road, lest they fail soon and frequently.

  • Snoo

    Not a sound design idea. Power plants need to be isolated from the vibration on the road, lest they fail soon and frequently.

  • ChuckL

    Jo’s problem with motor seizures should have been completely solved by now simply by using an adaption of a motorcycle’s slipper clutch. if you try to drive the motor with the wheel, the clutch slips. It was designed to prevent wheel hop on downshifts at the race track, but it should work just as well here.

  • ChuckL

    Jo’s problem with motor seizures should have been completely solved by now simply by using an adaption of a motorcycle’s slipper clutch. if you try to drive the motor with the wheel, the clutch slips. It was designed to prevent wheel hop on downshifts at the race track, but it should work just as well here.

  • Alexei
  • Alexei
  • Rif

    Electric motors as part of the wheel is nothing new. It was first introduced in 1890. Porsche made an electrical car around this time with this.

    As driving range is the main limitation for electrical vehicles, placing the motor in the wheel is the way to go. This avoids the significant power losses from transmission and gears.

    Other companies such as Siemens in DE, PML-Flightlink in GB are also creating in-wheel motors for electric cars, I am sure there is more.

    The real specialty of the Michelin wheel is the motorized suspension. I look forward to see what will be possible with this. It could chance cornering and braking.

  • Rif

    Electric motors as part of the wheel is nothing new. It was first introduced in 1890. Porsche made an electrical car around this time with this.

    As driving range is the main limitation for electrical vehicles, placing the motor in the wheel is the way to go. This avoids the significant power losses from transmission and gears.

    Other companies such as Siemens in DE, PML-Flightlink in GB are also creating in-wheel motors for electric cars, I am sure there is more.

    The real specialty of the Michelin wheel is the motorized suspension. I look forward to see what will be possible with this. It could chance cornering and braking.

  • http://globalpatriot.com Global Patriot

    An very interesting twist on auto design, and one that has been done before, but it will be interesting to see if they can produce a commercial version that withstands the vibration requirements over a significant distance and in any weather.

  • http://globalpatriot.com Global Patriot

    An very interesting twist on auto design, and one that has been done before, but it will be interesting to see if they can produce a commercial version that withstands the vibration requirements over a significant distance and in any weather.

  • http://EasyOpinions.blogspot.com/ Andrew Garland

    () How do you change the tire without damaging the components?

    () How heavy, cumbersome, and interconnected is this thing? How does the driver change a flat out on the road.

    ()You will need a fifth wheel for a spare.

    () How do you keep people from stealing this $2000 (guess) wheel?

  • http://EasyOpinions.blogspot.com/ Andrew Garland

    () How do you change the tire without damaging the components?

    () How heavy, cumbersome, and interconnected is this thing? How does the driver change a flat out on the road.

    ()You will need a fifth wheel for a spare.

    () How do you keep people from stealing this $2000 (guess) wheel?

  • Brett_McS

    In the US the electric wheel idea was independently developed for earth moving equipment by Robert LeTourneau, starting in the 1930s. His company was later bought out by Caterpillar.

  • Brett_McS

    In the US the electric wheel idea was independently developed for earth moving equipment by Robert LeTourneau, starting in the 1930s. His company was later bought out by Caterpillar.

  • http://www.motorobilia.com Ronnie Schreiber

    Just about all the tire companies are working on wheelmotor concepts. The question that I have has to do with unsprung weight. The drive motor has to add unsprung weight, which is generally regarded as deleterious to handling.

    OTOH, you can do some very cool stability control things with individual motors at each wheel. Theoretically you could have a parking mode that allows the car to turn on its own axis.

  • http://www.motorobilia.com Ronnie Schreiber

    Just about all the tire companies are working on wheelmotor concepts. The question that I have has to do with unsprung weight. The drive motor has to add unsprung weight, which is generally regarded as deleterious to handling.

    OTOH, you can do some very cool stability control things with individual motors at each wheel. Theoretically you could have a parking mode that allows the car to turn on its own axis.

  • ERF

    Wheel motors are the oldest of old hats.

    Michelin’s new idea (new to me anyway) is a SPRUNG wheel motor, an idea that could be a step toward solving wheel motors’ two biggest faults: the handling penalty of high unsprung wheel weight and the low durability of unsprung complex drive components.

    Does Michelin’s system make strong progress in these problem areas? It is not yet clear.

  • ERF

    Wheel motors are the oldest of old hats.

    Michelin’s new idea (new to me anyway) is a SPRUNG wheel motor, an idea that could be a step toward solving wheel motors’ two biggest faults: the handling penalty of high unsprung wheel weight and the low durability of unsprung complex drive components.

    Does Michelin’s system make strong progress in these problem areas? It is not yet clear.

  • Jim

    Couple of issues. Seems like unsprung weight would be high yielding handling problems and, hey, isn’t an electric car just burniog coal? Whats so green about that?

  • Jim

    Couple of issues. Seems like unsprung weight would be high yielding handling problems and, hey, isn’t an electric car just burniog coal? Whats so green about that?

  • FAYOLLE

    Chinese allready sell EV bikes and scooters, and it seems cars, with Electric Motors inside the wheels.

    Chinese make it cheap and simple.

    Why Westerners should always be slaves of their Automotors MAFIA: those of Chicago and the European ones.

    Can’t we abolish these MAFIA borders?

    For God and the Planet of my Children

  • FAYOLLE

    Chinese allready sell EV bikes and scooters, and it seems cars, with Electric Motors inside the wheels.

    Chinese make it cheap and simple.

    Why Westerners should always be slaves of their Automotors MAFIA: those of Chicago and the European ones.

    Can’t we abolish these MAFIA borders?

    For God and the Planet of my Children

  • Barnstable

    Snoo,

    The wheel design looks as if the power plant component will be upstream from the suspension component, so that it will not be bouncing around as much as the tire itself. Or am I wrong about that (not an engineer)?

  • Barnstable

    Snoo,

    The wheel design looks as if the power plant component will be upstream from the suspension component, so that it will not be bouncing around as much as the tire itself. Or am I wrong about that (not an engineer)?

  • Cap’n Dan

    I have several concerns here, but the seizure issue isn’t one of them. A simple clutch mechanism would solve that. First, as someone else noted, what’s the reliablity of those motors and their bearings when directly exposed to the shock of wheel travel on a potholed road? Second, reduction of unsprung weight is one of the keys to automobile handling. This reverses that effect. Third, just turning the steered wheels on this thing will introduce gyroscopic forces into the motor bearings, as well as increase the load on steering components. Loads increase, the structure necessary to react that load increases. There will be a cost in vehicle weight.

    All that said, it’s worth investigating. Slap a set of four of these on anything with a frame, and voila! automobile! Makes design packaging endlessly adaptable.

  • Cap’n Dan

    I have several concerns here, but the seizure issue isn’t one of them. A simple clutch mechanism would solve that. First, as someone else noted, what’s the reliablity of those motors and their bearings when directly exposed to the shock of wheel travel on a potholed road? Second, reduction of unsprung weight is one of the keys to automobile handling. This reverses that effect. Third, just turning the steered wheels on this thing will introduce gyroscopic forces into the motor bearings, as well as increase the load on steering components. Loads increase, the structure necessary to react that load increases. There will be a cost in vehicle weight.

    All that said, it’s worth investigating. Slap a set of four of these on anything with a frame, and voila! automobile! Makes design packaging endlessly adaptable.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    ChuckL,

    I think you’re right with the slipper clutch – if they’re using a similar system there shouldn’t be much problem.

    That said: I am definitely a well-wisher, but remain a gen-2 customer on anything that is this much a departure.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    ChuckL,

    I think you’re right with the slipper clutch – if they’re using a similar system there shouldn’t be much problem.

    That said: I am definitely a well-wisher, but remain a gen-2 customer on anything that is this much a departure.

  • Philc

    I can see lots of possibilties with this design-

    want 4-wheel drive? want to add power at your next tire change? need better brakes? need to electronically control exactly how much power goes to each wheel (for ice/snow driving)?

  • Philc

    I can see lots of possibilties with this design-

    want 4-wheel drive? want to add power at your next tire change? need better brakes? need to electronically control exactly how much power goes to each wheel (for ice/snow driving)?

  • http://www.trentinnovation.typepad.com Jari

    This approach is really interesting.

    Just talked yesterday with a MIT Director about the fact that energy source/motor engine is going closer where needed, in this case close to wheels. This approach has been used by MIT in developing their concept electric car.

  • http://www.trentinnovation.typepad.com Jari

    This approach is really interesting.

    Just talked yesterday with a MIT Director about the fact that energy source/motor engine is going closer where needed, in this case close to wheels. This approach has been used by MIT in developing their concept electric car.

  • http://tiltshift.com Chad P.

    I wonder if the electrical suspension motor could be used as a generator. e.g. when you hit bumps or corner, the up/down motion would generate electricity. Thus, another source of regenerative energy to extend driving range.

  • http://tiltshift.com Chad P.

    I wonder if the electrical suspension motor could be used as a generator. e.g. when you hit bumps or corner, the up/down motion would generate electricity. Thus, another source of regenerative energy to extend driving range.

  • Salva

    I think that michelin has shown this invent because they will certify it without more problems.

    I think that if this kind of wheels can be implemented in the future cars, a lot of factories will have to close their door because this kind of package needs less part cars and because the complexity to assembly this kind of cars is less.

    Be careful if you are working in a tradicional car factory.

    And finally, it will be possible in the future a car with electric wheels and with a cell fuel generator??

  • Salva

    I think that michelin has shown this invent because they will certify it without more problems.

    I think that if this kind of wheels can be implemented in the future cars, a lot of factories will have to close their door because this kind of package needs less part cars and because the complexity to assembly this kind of cars is less.

    Be careful if you are working in a tradicional car factory.

    And finally, it will be possible in the future a car with electric wheels and with a cell fuel generator??

  • Alain Chevalier

    Well to answer Jo, a differential who seize on a car can do that too.

    So to test it properly those cars in real hard environment, let’s organize race of those cars.

    As fact Porsche first race car was an electric hybrid car. And that’s was in early 1900.

    So, let’s go in electric car development and kick off those inefficient Internal combustion, cars.

    And by the same way we can save a bit of air, we breathe.

  • Alain Chevalier

    Well to answer Jo, a differential who seize on a car can do that too.

    So to test it properly those cars in real hard environment, let’s organize race of those cars.

    As fact Porsche first race car was an electric hybrid car. And that’s was in early 1900.

    So, let’s go in electric car development and kick off those inefficient Internal combustion, cars.

    And by the same way we can save a bit of air, we breathe.

  • http://@wildblue.net MICHAEL J. SCHMITZ

    THATS UNIQUE AND SAVES ON WEIGHT. THIS COULD CHANGE THE CAR COMPLETELY, LIKE LOWERING THE SPEED LIMIT AND MAKING CAR AND TRUCK BODIES OUT OF LIGHTWEIGHT FIBERGLASS, BUT HOW WOULD YOU HEAT AND AIR CONDITION IT? YOU’D NEED A ALTERNATOR OR GENERATOR, PREFERRABLY ELECTRIC, SEPARATE FROM THE WHEELS OR A AUTOMATIC RECHARGER WHILE RUNNING TO KEEP ALL EQUIPTMENT CHARGING AND A CHARGER OR RECHARGABLE CHARGER TO KEEP EACH WHEEL CHARGED, SO ONE CAN GO FOREVER. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS. ITS TO BAD YOU CANT MAKE IT SOONER THAN 2010.

  • Ben

    @Salva

    You should look up the efficiency on current fuel cell tech. It is much lower than that of batteries. I dont understand the point of having this IN the wheel, why not on an axle a foot away from the wheel. Seems like a lot more suspension travel and less complicated set up could be have. Also this looks like it would be a huge pain in the ass to work on. I do know that if we go to electric vehicles this is how we will do it (one motor per drive wheel). Just right now the tech for batteries or fuel cells needs to improve for it to become practical. Or the price of gas going up ten fold would count as making this practical.

  • Ben

    @Salva

    You should look up the efficiency on current fuel cell tech. It is much lower than that of batteries. I dont understand the point of having this IN the wheel, why not on an axle a foot away from the wheel. Seems like a lot more suspension travel and less complicated set up could be have. Also this looks like it would be a huge pain in the ass to work on. I do know that if we go to electric vehicles this is how we will do it (one motor per drive wheel). Just right now the tech for batteries or fuel cells needs to improve for it to become practical. Or the price of gas going up ten fold would count as making this practical.

  • spotbeam29

    Heuliez is said to be road-testing prototypes right now, probably in France. Where can I read about their progress (if any) ?

  • spotbeam29

    Heuliez is said to be road-testing prototypes right now, probably in France. Where can I read about their progress (if any) ?

  • Paul

    13 years in racing and he’s never heard of ‘lifeing’ components to predict when they’ll break?? .. real engineer talking there.

    Motor seizing??? What a brainless comment. Why would an electric wheel motor seize? the ONLY friction generated is from the wheel bearing and how often do they fail? There’s less friction in a wheel motor than in a friction brake system.

    If you’re looking for super high amounts of friction look no further than the ICE and entire drivetrain.

    Honestly… just say anything as long as it’s ignorant and negative!

  • Paul

    13 years in racing and he’s never heard of ‘lifeing’ components to predict when they’ll break?? .. real engineer talking there.

    Motor seizing??? What a brainless comment. Why would an electric wheel motor seize? the ONLY friction generated is from the wheel bearing and how often do they fail? There’s less friction in a wheel motor than in a friction brake system.

    If you’re looking for super high amounts of friction look no further than the ICE and entire drivetrain.

    Honestly… just say anything as long as it’s ignorant and negative!

  • Kevin Arnett

    What I have seen with the electric motor is that the comand is sent by dc or only in one dierction form the inverter to the coil, if we can invent a way for the comand to be sent ac, or in both directions from the inverter and the coils. Well it will make the power last longer while speeding up the car. just an idea I had like How are body works compaired to a robot!

  • Kevin Arnett

    What I have seen with the electric motor is that the comand is sent by dc or only in one dierction form the inverter to the coil, if we can invent a way for the comand to be sent ac, or in both directions from the inverter and the coils. Well it will make the power last longer while speeding up the car. just an idea I had like How are body works compaired to a robot!

  • Garth Merrill

    Well, I agree with Paul, how can a brush-less electric motor 3″ X 6″ lock up a auto wheel doing 60 MPH??? Get real. Regular autos suffer catastrophic failures of the 4th kind. High RPM large parts failing and sending pieces flying like pistons, transmission parts, drive shaft parts etc, exploding gas and/or high pressure fuel cell tanks. No comparison whatever!

    Honestly… just say anything as long as it’s ignorant and negative!

    Fuel cell is no answer. It is very explosive, high pressure and must be dispensed by…gas stations. We go from gas to Hydrogen, still polluting, just less, and still a monopoly requiring big consumer costs and stopping at stations etc.

    Coal power? I am in the west and little is used here. Its all nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, thermo, and all are totally free of contaminates and on the rise countrywide. Modern coal plants are much lower than old, but compared to a major polluter engine in every car, it is still a 10th the pollution we have on the roads now, if all were electric cars and all power was coal plants, it would still be 10 times less polluting than individual motors in every car.

    Electric power is it. The current problem is the storage. Only two choices look good right now. Altairnano and Eestor. Eestor is best by far and if they succeed it has a good shot at electric motors taking over all power plants in boats, cars, ATV’s commercial trucks etc, even most aircraft. The prospects of that capacitor are monumental, if not Eestor, someone else will make it but batteries just don’t cut it. We need 10 fold improvement that is not using toxic, potentially unstable, rare or expensive exotic materials like lithium, and that don’t need recycled or have temperature restrictions etc. It is on the horizon, and by 2012 we should see it all working with the sky the limit then.

  • Garth Merrill

    Well, I agree with Paul, how can a brush-less electric motor 3″ X 6″ lock up a auto wheel doing 60 MPH??? Get real. Regular autos suffer catastrophic failures of the 4th kind. High RPM large parts failing and sending pieces flying like pistons, transmission parts, drive shaft parts etc, exploding gas and/or high pressure fuel cell tanks. No comparison whatever!

    Honestly… just say anything as long as it’s ignorant and negative!

    Fuel cell is no answer. It is very explosive, high pressure and must be dispensed by…gas stations. We go from gas to Hydrogen, still polluting, just less, and still a monopoly requiring big consumer costs and stopping at stations etc.

    Coal power? I am in the west and little is used here. Its all nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, thermo, and all are totally free of contaminates and on the rise countrywide. Modern coal plants are much lower than old, but compared to a major polluter engine in every car, it is still a 10th the pollution we have on the roads now, if all were electric cars and all power was coal plants, it would still be 10 times less polluting than individual motors in every car.

    Electric power is it. The current problem is the storage. Only two choices look good right now. Altairnano and Eestor. Eestor is best by far and if they succeed it has a good shot at electric motors taking over all power plants in boats, cars, ATV’s commercial trucks etc, even most aircraft. The prospects of that capacitor are monumental, if not Eestor, someone else will make it but batteries just don’t cut it. We need 10 fold improvement that is not using toxic, potentially unstable, rare or expensive exotic materials like lithium, and that don’t need recycled or have temperature restrictions etc. It is on the horizon, and by 2012 we should see it all working with the sky the limit then.

  • Garth Merrill

    I forgot to mention, hybrid autos is no answer, a bag of worms, polluting engine and electric power. Maintenance nightmare with both technologies together, half way to nowhere. Better mileage but at what cost? Straight EV, simple, no pollution, very low maintenance, quite, charge at home without side trips, instant go at any temp. What could be better?

  • Garth Merrill

    I forgot to mention, hybrid autos is no answer, a bag of worms, polluting engine and electric power. Maintenance nightmare with both technologies together, half way to nowhere. Better mileage but at what cost? Straight EV, simple, no pollution, very low maintenance, quite, charge at home without side trips, instant go at any temp. What could be better?

  • http://Web Easy mods

    This would be the single most easiest mod to convert a typical car to a hybrid for the do it yourself type owner. Especially if you have front wheel drive. Your two rear wheels could be electrically driven independantly or just one rear drive wheel, hooked up to a simple high capacity rechargeable battery, for just around town stuff, or sitting in traffic, creeping along at 10mph. That’s where hybrids make their gains. This should be marketed similiar to how the hub motors are for bicycles. It would be revolutionary.

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