Protean Electric has been out promoting its in-wheel motors for a while, and if the company gets its way, the tide will finally turn towards the end of 2012. That's when the long process of developing and testing the compact wheel-turners – they weigh just 31 kilograms/68 pounds each but offer 110 horsepower – should be ready for mass production.
There are two applications here, and Protean was displaying both at the 2011 SAE World Congress in Detroit last week. First, since using in-wheel motors means there is no gearbox, drive shafts or differential, you can make an electric vehicle much lighter than is currently possible. As we all know, light = more efficient. Second, you can install a pair of the motors into a traditional ICE vehicle so that the motors offer a way to easily hybridize any vehicle on the road today. This way, you can get three drive modes – engine-only, electric-only or through-the-road hybrid – out of any car or truck. Even better, for some, this set-up adds 220 hp of pure electric assist to the vehicle, 110 from each wheel, on top of however much power the ICE puts out.
Speaking of trucks, Protean was offering rides in a pure electric Ford F-150 that Protean converted, adding a specially made battery, to demonstrate that its little motor discs have got the chops required. As Protean's Andrew Vallance told us:
The F-150, one of Protean's U.S. show cars, uses four in-wheel motors. It can go 100-plus miles an hour and has a 100-mile range. But, Vallance pointed out, if you drop this powertrain into a smaller vehicle, you can go 0-60 in under five seconds and top out at 130+ mph. That's what the 2007 demonstrator, the Volvo ReCharge, could do. It also used Protean in-wheel motors.
We deliberately decided to show the most unlikely and unsubtle electric vehicle you can imagine, and it has quite an impact when you display that at shows next to city cars. It squarely addresses some of the perceptions that some people have that electric vehicles are only going to be small and limited in range, acceleration and performance.
Protean currently offers one in-wheel motor model, which is designed to fit inside a typical 18-inch road wheel. The plan is to get this motor certified, and then be able to get it ready for mass production in about 18 months. Once that happens, it could be scaled it up or down if future partners ask for it. Protean doesn't want to be in the business of converting cars, it just wants to perfect these motors and work with OEMs to get them into lots and lots of vehicles. You can get more information at the Protean website and see pictures of the motors in our gallery below.