Futuristic Ford Fiesta sports in-wheel electric motors
Research vehicle shows how space could be saved under the hood to build smaller, more agile cars that could even steer sideways.
According to the World Health Organization, by 2050 the number of people living in cities around the globe will increase from 3.4 billion today to 6.4 billion, while the number of cars worldwide will rise fourfold during the same time.
Ford’s answer to a crowded inner-city future is a Fiesta-based research vehicle with an electric motor mounted to each rear wheel, in place of a conventional engine and drivetrain, that saves space and makes the car easier to park.
Ford said that the research vehicle, built alongside German automotive component manufacturer and supplier Schaeffler, "could lead to improvements in urban mobility and parking by making possible smaller, more agile cars." And it added that the space-saving prototype technology could someday allow Ford to build a four-person car that only occupies the space of a two-person car of today.
Dubbed "eWheelDrive," the technology uses independent electric motors installed inside the rear wheel hubs to drive and decelerate the vehicle and even manage driver assist systems. This frees space under the hood where the engine and transmission are usually housed in a conventional car, or a central motor in an electric car.
With this arrangement, the steering system could also potentially allow the tires to rotate 90 degrees, effectively allowing the car to move sideways into parking spaces in more populated and congested cities.
"This highly integrated wheel-hub drive makes it possible to rethink the city car without restrictions,” said Peter Gutzmer, Schaeffler’s chief technical officer in a statement, "and could be a key factor in new vehicle concepts and automobile platforms in the future."
Ford said in-wheel electric motors are considered by transportation experts to be a potentially important technology for future generations of "city cars" as the world population becomes more urbanized.
Protean Electric, a Michigan-based engineering company, has a Ford Focus equipped with its own in-wheel electric motors and is developing an entirely new brake disc to compensate for the motor's complete takeover of available wheel space. But while experts are considering the technology as an easier "bolt-on" solution than traditional electric powertrains, the inherent weight and its effects on ride quality, wheel size and braking reliability remain a challenge.
Next, Ford and Schaffler will join with automotive supplier Continental, RWTH Aachen University and Regensburg University of Applied Sciences on project MEHREN (Multimotor Electric Vehicle with Highest Room and Energy Efficiency) to develop two new road-ready vehicles by 2015.
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