In-Wheel Motors Coming From Protean Partnership With VIE


The last time we did a story about Protean in wheel motors was four years ago. Back then, the headline said production would begin in 2014. Not much has been heard from Protean since then but now comes word that it has formed a partnership with  Zhejiang VIE Science & Technology Company (VIE) and will to develop its ProteanDrive 16″ in-wheel motor for use in a broad range of automotive and light truck applications.

Protean in wheel motors for electric cars

What’s so great about in wheel motors? For one thing, they eliminate all the transmissions, driveshafts, axles, differentials, and clutches that have been part of conventional cars with internal combustion engine cars for a century. Getting rid of all that hardware leaves lots more room inside the structure of an automobile for passengers and the stuff they carry around with them. It also means designers can devise new crash structure architecture that does a better job of protecting people in the event of a collision.

The bad news is that the Protean DRIVE 16 adds 60 pounds of unsprung weight to the corner of a car. Unsprung weight is the enemy of handling. Every time the car hits a bump, a pot hole, or a speed bump, all that weight has to get started in one direction and then move in the opposite direction as soon as the spring it is attached to reaches the limit of its travel.

It is Newton’s First Law of Motion — a body at rest tends to remain at rest until an outside force is applied to it. Add in the weight of the tire, the wheel, and brakes and the total weight of the components at any corner of a car fitted with an in wheel motor could exceed 100 pounds. That’s a lot of mass to get moving every time a bump in the road comes along. Such a thing would have been impossible a few years ago, but today’s computer controlled active suspensions might be able to cope with the stress an in wheel motor will place on the suspension components.

Each ProteanDRIVE 16 in wheel motor has nearly 600 ft-lb of peak torque and 54 peak horsepower according to Green Car Congress. The wheel/motor combination is intended to meet the needs of all plug-in hybrid and electric cars. The torque is more than ample. The power seems a little low unless four in wheel motors are planned. The motor is designed to fit inside a standard 16″ wheel. Here’s hoping it won’t be another 4 years before we hear from Protean again. Be sure to check out the video below for more information.



About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • kvleeuwen

    108 horsepower in two wheels is more than my Zoe, and that’s not a slow car.
    But… no mechanical brakes?

    • Steve Hanley

      The company says its design allow for the installation of conventional brakes.

      • Joe Viocoe

        The video shows mechanical brakes… but it sounded and looked like they had to compromise for weight by putting in a very expensive carbon fiber leaf suspension.
        You can have low weight, or durability, or affordability,…. but never two at the same time.

        IMO, in wheel motors for road cars is a dead end. Because there is no reason to get rid of CV axles… and you can get all the benefits by putting the motor behind the suspension.

      • Joe Viocoe

        BTW… kudos on the excellent explanation of Unsprung Weight.

      • kvleeuwen

        I did not see how in the exploded view. It can’t be a full size disc brake I think, and it would make the assembly even heavier…

  • kevin mccune

    Why not make the wheel the rotor ? Could a ferrous wheel not be used as the rotor too ?

  • Joe Viocoe

    “they eliminate all the transmissions, driveshafts, axles, differentials, and cluthes”

    Keep one thing… the CV axle… and you will eliminate the unsprung weight issue.
    Just put the motors in the chassis directly adjacent to each wheel, connect a CV axle, and you can use a regular lightweight sports suspension.

    You can still have Electric Motors and all their torque, and 4 wheel independent drive with all the traction control benefits… without trying to cram components where they do not belong.
    Tesla was able to use single motors for each pair (front / back), requiring axles and differentials… and managed to get beyond supercar performance.
    There is simply no good reason to be a purist and demand that axles must go too.

    • Steve Hanley

      That’s a good idea. Jaguar used to mount the rear brakes on the X-KE next to the differential to reduce unsprung weight at the rear wheels. I know because I had to bleed them once!

      • Joe Viocoe

        Yeah, inboard brakes weren’t too popular because of the maintenance issue.
        But brakes are friction components which requires regular maintenance, and are air cooled so it helps to put them on the hubs.
        A liquid cooled motor that should be maintenance​ free,… Has no business being unsprung.

  • Jem Thomas

    There seem to be some inconsistencies between the product in the Video and the product described in the article. The product in the video is touted as having an all up weight of 20Kg (1:57 in the video) which is less than 60 pounds. Also the brand name does not seem to be the same.
    The product in the Video seems to address the unsprung weight issues.

    • Steve Hanley

      Protean has been working on this concept for 5 years. Lots of different specs have been thrown around during that time.

  • Oollyoumn

    Last year a company named DHX claimed to be working on a electric motor that is 7in dia. and 7 in long weighing just 45lbs with an output of 345hp. Don’t know how this would scale down, but possibly a 100hp version could get down to something in the 20-30 lbs. Doing away with the differential and driveshafts show help offset cost increases.

    If the motor was integral to the hub, it could allow just a single bearing set for wheels and motor, and the motor frame also supplying hub functionality, possibly saving some weight and cost.

    Having a low hp motor at each wheel would be nice. Currently the instant torque in the Leaf makes unintentional wheel spin a regular occurrence. With each wheel only getting half the torque, maybe wheel spin would be easier to control.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If each wheel has its own motor then wheel spin should basically disappear.
      We see that now with more advanced traction control systems. It’s an easy thing to control with computers.