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.
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.
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