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Click above for more shots of the Michelin Active Wheel and the Ventire Volage

Before Michelin began wrapping halos of rubber around the wheels of our cars, the hoops were made completely from wood -- horse and buggy style. That's what we call a serious innovation, and the French tire maker has got plenty of ideas to keep it at the forefront of rolling technology. The latest bit of high-tech kit revolving out of Michelin's design department is known as the Active Wheel system. Two motors, one to propel the car and another for the integrated suspension system, sit inside the hub and allow the entire drivetrain to fit neatly enclosed at each corner.

This innovative design would potentially allow for an amazingly diverse set of platforms that could be engineered to accept the same set of shoes. Depending on the size of the actual Active Wheels used, the technology could be applied to virtually any type of car. With so much going on in just the rolling-stock, it should come as no surprise that Michelin is looking for partners to help offload some of the rest of the car's design and has just signed an agreement with CITIC Guoan Mengguli Corp. in China. Important bits like the lithium-ion battery development will be carried out in China where test-mules equipped with lithium-powered Active Wheels are already running around city streets.

Gallery: Venturi Volage

[Sources: Michelin, Automotive News - sub. req'd]


Michelin reinvents the wheel

In 2008, Michelin has reinvented the wheel, enabling the unveiling of two cars at the Paris Motor Show that usher in a totally new era.

In 1895, André and Edouard Michelin, the brothers who founded the Group that bears their name, transformed the car wheel by adding a tyre for the first time. Their innovation endures to this day.

More than a century later, Michelin wants its latest innovation to enjoy the same success as its illustrious predecessor in 1895.

In 2008, the transformation is truly revolutionary-no more engine under the front or rear bonnet, no more traditional suspension system, and no more gearbox or transmission shaft thanks to the Michelin Active Wheel. That's because all essential components have been integrated into the wheel itself. Cars equipped with this integrated solution deliver an array of unique advantages. In a sense, the Michelin Active Wheel is an intelligent wheel capable of propelling cars without gasoline, while ensuring suspension and braking functions and providing unrivalled road handling and comfort.

The Michelin Active Wheel inaugurates a new era in road transportation in which a car's road, safety, energy and environmental performance achieve unprecedented levels. This is because of a miniature drive engine and an electrical suspension system incorporated into the wheel. These technologies developed by Michelin have made it possible to completely rethink the car.

The most advanced illustration of this achievement is the new Venturi Volage, which is being unveiled in a world premiere at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. Fitted with the Michelin Active Wheel, the car is a roadster that is well ahead of its time. And with good reason... With its innovative design that is free of all constraints (like the need to house an engine) and its electrical drive motor, the Venturi Volage delivers outstanding road performance, safety and comfort-all in an environmentally friendly vehicle.

The second vehicle-the new WILL-is built through a partnership involving Heuliez, Michelin and Orange. The world's first example of an EV capable of holding its own against traditional cars, this small-size vehicle can be adapted for use as both a passenger car and a utility vehicle. The WILL provides a practical solution to road transportation concerns in the areas of energy resources, urban pollution and personal safety.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sounds like a great way for Michelin to grow its market.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ehm, The tire was developed by a scott named mr.Dunlop, not michelin!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Not the AUTOMOBILE tire... That was Michelin.
        • 6 Years Ago
        ...which, given that they followed Dunlop's design, was an innovation how, exactly?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Rich, haha, well yes, it's like putting a slice of cheese on a bowl of ice-cream and calling it an inovation :P I guess for the time it was a pretty big feat to produce a tire withstanding all the weight and centrifugal forces involved in the motorized world of vulcanization.
        • 6 Years Ago
        They did NOT follow Dunlop's design. Before Michelin, very crude pneumatic tires were glued to the rim (bicycles) - Michelin invented removable tires, then invented the radial tire, which is your modern car tire. If you don't call that innovation, does that mean you'd be perfectly happy having glued-on bicycle balloon tires on your car ?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ye, sory about that, missed it :P And for the record, it wasn't Dunlop that invented the tire.. it was Robert William Thomas =)
      • 6 Years Ago
      does anyone realize that this is was already done for the tumbler for the batman begins batmobile years ago?
      • 6 Years Ago
      How about all the armchair physicists give it a break on unsprung weight?

      ICE's didn't exactly become efficient and perfect overnight either. I'd love to see where this could be at in 20 or 30 years of innovations. Besides it offers so many advantages unsprung weight may not even matter.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Thanks for missing my point entirely. While you were getting defensive, I was simply saying people need to chill out and let things get worked on.

        Yes, throw all the physics you want at me...you obviously know more than I do. But no one's being forced to take anything. I'm just saying everyone chill out and let progress take its course. You guys always feel the need to hammer everything immediately to show off some sort of "intellect."
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah, because everyone should just eat what they are fed, even if it isn't good.

        Why don't you give your evaluation-stifling a rest? Maybe join the debate if you have real information to contribute.

        in addition to the points I made above, this also does not incorporate angle changes, or steering characteristics... there is more to steering than just turning the wheel. Angles in three dimensions, and throughout the suspension travel have to be handled... can this system do it properly? Maybe, maybe not...

        The premise is not being completely dismissed, but there is a lot of consideration for how it works that must be done, and done very well, in very close quarters. doing more things in a modest volume cylindrical area is still an issue.

        And unsprung weight will ALWAYS matter, as long as there is are suspensions involved. Whether advancements make themselves worth the penalty toward unsprung weight remains to be seen.

        Independent suspension, power, braking, and steering is an interesting, and perhaps ideal theoretical premise. That doesn't mean it is technically attainable without new technology that we may or may not have yet, or a gestalt shift in the way personal ground-conveyance is conceived and designed.

        But smaller, more cramped, more vulnerable, and exposed to more heat and wear, and possibly much less serviceable are not traits that just magically don't matter.

      • 6 Years Ago
      This looks like a great idea.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Hey Michelin-
        What ever happened to the 'tweel'?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Except for the massive add of unsprung weight?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I worked for a company that tried to do the whole "electric motor in the wheel" thing. Not just for cars, but bicycles and motorcycles as well. It does not work. As mentioned, adding to un-sprung weight is just a bad idea for handling and ride comfort, especially for the bikes. Great concept but unless they can get the total package weight down significantly it'll never catch on.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Seems okay for a city car or something, but in terms of performance won't all that moving mass (the motor and whatnot) be kinda hard on the suspension? I know it's not sprung weight in terms of rotational mass, but I'm just referring to the job of the suspension. Imagine having really really really heavy suspension components...
      • 6 Years Ago
      The suspension part reminds me of the Bose Active suspension that never really took off. This seems to be the next evolutionary step in regards to stuffing crap in the wheel.
      • 6 Years Ago
      There are a few questions about this...

      There is only so much room inside a wheel. how much can you stuff in there with the parts still being big and robust enough to do what they need to.

      -Suspension travel and bending and alignment forces on whatever attachment system retains the hubs to the vehicle.

      -wheel bearings being of sufficient size to accomodate weight and heat without wear, and be replaceable, or re-build-able.

      -Power transmission, or electric motor energy conversion, and anti-torque back through the attachment system, and it's associated heat.

      -braking, or regenerative braking, and it's associated heat, dust, and wear

      -easy tire and wheel removal for service of both the components and the wheel-tire assembly

      if ALL of those can be answered without compromise vs good, or even the best current suspension, drivetrain, braking, and steering systems, where those devices are not entirely located in the confines of a wheel spinning very fast, with a lot of weight and forces being imparted on it.

      Could be really interesting, if it isn't flawed or significantly compromised merely for packaging.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hmm.... I'm not an engineer, but I see problems with the design. This would not be an all weather type of set up as snow would completely pack around the springs and whatever else is in there severely limiting its function. Trust me.... I had to clean out my wheels from snow dust build up today.
      • 6 Years Ago
      all you guys bitching about unsprung weight have to remember that this is a motor inside of a wheel, only the wheel is turning... the rest is bolted to the chassis, and has no impact on the weight of the rotating mass.

      That and independent motors at each wheel are FAR more efficient then an individual motor that has to spin up the weight of transmission/transfer case/ rear dif etc etc....
        • 6 Years Ago

        Not everything you see in the picture above is unsprung weight - the fact that the suspension components and other systems fit inside the diameter of the wheel doesn't mean they're unsprung - the unsprung weight is actually not dramatically higher than a regular large diameter wheel with big brakes. They're using a lightweight wheel, lightweight in-wheel motor and brakes, but the rest is sprung, and fastened to the frame of the car... Look at the picture and imagine the shocks in action - whatever stays put as the wheel bounces up and down is sprung, and it's most of the heft of this innovation...
      • 6 Years Ago
      We invented something better than this at MIT, less unsprung weight, more plug'n play.
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