Motor-in-wheel urban electric vehicle packs radical space efficiency and agility

Schaeffler eWheelDrive packs drive motor, braking and control units all in the wheel hub.

Schaeffler eWheelDrive packs drive motor, braking and control units all in the wheel hub. (Schaeffler photo)

What could you do if you didn’t have to put a motor under the hood of a car? Well, for starters you could get rid of the hood, not to mention the space underneath it. Or you could simply expand what would otherwise be a two-seater into four. That’s the idea behind the Schaeffler eWheelDrive, which puts an electric motor in the wheel hub, doing away with the onboard drivetrain. It’s idea, thinks Ford, that’s worth investigating, and together with Schaeffler developed a research vehicle using a Fiesta platform.

“This highly integrated wheel-hub drive makes it possible to rethink the city car without restrictions, and could be a key factor in new vehicle concepts and automobile platforms in the future,” said Schaeffler chief technical officer Peter Gutzmer.

Freed from axle drive shafts, and vehicle using eWheelDrive could have radical steering angles on each wheel, enough so to even park sideways, obviously useful in congested urban areas. Forget parallel parking woes. An eWheelDrive-equipped car could park in its own length, like a cereal box on supermarket shelf.

Technical hurdles with in-wheel motors is that the electric motor, braking and cooling along with control  systems that must be included, all within a relatively small space. Motor-in-wheel systems have been used in heavy equipment, whose large wheels don’t have the space constraints that the wheels a small urban electric vehicle do.

Ford and Schaeffler, a major German automotive component manufacturer,  will team with Continental, RWTH Aachen and the University of Applied Sciences, Regensburg, in a new project called MEHREN (in English Multimotor Electric Vehicle with Highest Room and Energy Efficiency) to develop two new driveable vehicles by 2015. The project, says Ford, will attempt to “increase the integration of in-wheel motors in a car and will look at vehicle dynamics control, braking, stability and the fun-to-drive factor.”