• Jul 12, 2012
It looks like the company that first got us excited about modern in-wheel motors is finally going forward with commercialization. To paraphrase (poorly) a certain Mr. Sam Cooke, "It's been a long, a long time coming, but I know a Protean Electric Drive™ gonna come. Oh yes, it will."

Originally England-based and called PML Flightlink, the company now resides in Troy, MI, and will soon be exploring a third continent. With $84 million of help from investors, Protean Electric has announced it will open a production facility in Liyang, China that will be able to handle a modest amount of volume. It still seeks to license its technology for larger customers, however.

Scroll below for all the details in the official press release. Or, even better, check out the video version of that document below, which includes footage of the product in action.



Show full PR text
Protean Electric Announces $84 Million In New Funding; New Manufacturing Facility In China

New capital will fuel production of Protean's groundbreaking electric drive technology

TROY, Mich., July 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Protean Electric, the global leader in the development and commercialization of in-wheel electric drive systems, today announced $84 million in new funding from GSR Ventures, New Times Group, Oak Investment Partners and the city of Liyang, Jiangsu Province, China. This capital will be used to bring Protean's breakthrough electric drive technology to production by establishing manufacturing facilities in Liyang.

The funding is led by GSR Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Beijing and Silicon Valley. They will be joined by the New Times Group, a Liyang-based industrial group. Oak Investment Partners, Protean's first venture investor, is also participating in this round of funding. The city of Liyang is partnering to provide prototype manufacturing support, with favorable industrial policy.

"GSR is honored to lead this round of investment in a disruptive technology that we believe has great promise for the Chinese automotive market and potentially building a global EV platform," said Sonny Wu, GSR Ventures managing director.

This marks Protean Electric's entry into China, the world's largest automobile market. In 2011, China automobile sales exceeded 18.5 million units. Passenger car sales climbed to about 14.5 million units; commercial vehicle sales exceeded 4 million units. Total vehicle registrations in China today total over 100 million automobiles.

"Liyang is becoming a well-known location for companies at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, especially in new energy, and we are very pleased to welcome Protean Electric to our city to manufacture their in-wheel electric drive system," said Liyang Mayor Su Jianghua.

"There's tremendous interest around the world in adopting Protean's in-wheel electric drive systems, which enable breakthrough cost and performance advantages, including high power and torque directly to the wheel as well as integrated power electronics and unparalleled regenerative braking efficiency," said Bandel Carano, managing partner at Oak Investment Partners. "China, in particular, presents a compelling near-term opportunity as it seeks to reduce its reliance on petroleum imports. In mature markets, such as North America and Europe, I believe Protean's electric drive system will be embraced as one solution to help these countries address fuel economy and emissions challenges."

"With this round of investment in place, Protean Electric is now positioned to move aggressively to production and into the market," said Bob Purcell, chairman and CEO of Protean Holdings Corp. "All of our investors believe in our technology and share in our vision to make Protean Electric the world leader for in-wheel electric drive. We will have the capability to directly supply our motors at lower volume levels, while providing licenses to our higher volume customers and partners."

Protean's In-wheel Electric-drive Solution

"We have a very unique value proposition: We can create hybrid and electric drive vehicle options, on the vehicles that people like to drive," Purcell said. "We can provide more power, better fuel economy, easier integration, and lower cost. The Protean Electric drive system is probably as close as the industry will ever get to a bolt-on solution."

Features of Protean's in-wheel motors include:
  • Fuel economy improvements up to 30 percent depending on battery size
  • Highest torque density of any of today's leading electric propulsion systems
  • 81 kW (110 hp) and 800 Nm (590 lb.-ft. torque) in each motor
  • Weight of only 31 kg (68 lbs.) per motor
  • Fits within the space of a conventional 18- to 24-inch road wheel
  • Superior regenerative braking capabilities, which allow up to 85 percent of the available kinetic energy to be recovered during braking
Protean Electric's plans in China call for beginning prototype motor production early next year and volume production in 2014.

Protean has been awarded 21 patents for its unique technology and design, and more than 70 additional patent applications have been filed internationally and with specific countries in North America, Europe and Asia. Protean also has won the prestigious 2012 Technology Pioneers Award from the World Economic Forum as being one of most promising start-up technology companies in the world.

In addition, Protean has developed multiple demonstration vehicles, including a Ford F150 pick-up truck, Volvo C30, Vauxhall Vivaro cargo van, Guangzhou Automobile Company Trumpchi, and BRABUS full electric and hybrid vehicles, based on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and were featured at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show.

About Protean:

Protean Electric is a leading clean technology company that designs, develops and manufactures the Protean Drive™, a fully integrated, in-wheel motor, direct-drive solution. Protean Electric is strategically positioned to play a major role in the hybrid and electric vehicle market by offering a combination of packaging advantages, new vehicle design opportunities, performance benefits and cost savings. Protean is funded by Oak Investment Partners, a multistage venture capital firm and a lead investor in the next generation of enduring growth companies. Protean Electric has offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Germany. For more information, visit www.proteanelectric.com.

About Oak Investment Partners:

Oak Investment Partners is a multi-stage venture capital firm and a lead investor in the next generation of enduring growth companies. Since 1978, the firm has invested $9 billion in nearly 500 companies around the world, earning the trust of entrepreneurs with a senior team that delivers steady guidance, deep domain expertise and a consistent investment philosophy. The firm's five major growth sectors of focus are information technology, Internet and consumer, financial services technology, healthcare services and clean energy. For more information, visit www.oakvc.com.

About GSR Ventures:

GSR Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm focused on building world-class technology companies in China. The firm invests primarily in the Internet, wireless, green technology and semiconductors sectors. Founded in 2004, GSR has more than 50 companies in its portfolio and more than $1 billion under management. Protean Electric is the 11th investment in energy-efficient companies for GSR. For more information, visit www.gsrventures.com.

About Jiangsu New Times Holding Group Co., Ltd.

Jiangsu New Times Holding Group was founded in December 2009 and is located in North Industrial Park within the Economic Development Zone of Liyang Municipality, Jiangsu Province. The company is mainly engaged in real estate and technology financing, as well as production and sales of a variety of copper products. Total sales revenue in 2011 is more than $1.6 billion, and will reach $2.4 billion in 2012.

Source: PR Newswire (http://s.tt/1hn7u)


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 81 Comments
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ahhh.. you found one of the pitfalls i haven't thought of. I can add that to my list of criticism, lol. Yes, you do need multiple controllers, or a single controller with 4 different banks of mosfets/IGBTs... that can be on the expensive side. Wheels will vary in speed, so will the hall/rotary encoder input.. so you can't just drive all motors the same! The controller problem is not unsolveable, but it is definitely an extra pain in the butt that is not needed. OK, as to your gear question - that is possible, but weight balance is a big deal on a bicycle.. in fact that are extremely sensitive to weight balance and different geometry changes a lot about a bike. You end up with the motor on one side of the bike, which has to be counterbalanced on the other side if you do a direct gear drive.. As for step motors, what's commonly used is 3 phase pulsed DC motors designed for other purposes ( lower pole count than stepper motors ). There are motors for large RC Cars, lawnmowers, scooters, and motorcycles that can be used on a bike. I am currently experimenting with 2 lawnmower motors which like to be in the thousands of RPMs. They're cheap, smaller, and lighter than their hub motor equivalents. For example, i've got an 8 pound lawnmower motor that will push out as much power continuously as the 16 pound hub motor i was making BIG power on.. :) I've got a 22 pound eTek/motenergy type motor that will push over double the power of the latest and greatest eBike hub motor, which is about 32 pounds. For both of these motors, i just need a 3:1 - 5:1 gear ratio to drive the wheel. I also no longer have to worry about rain rusting them out. Also no unsprung mass means better handling.. all in all, so much better.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 2 Years Ago
      let's say you only have two wheel motors, you save the diff, gear and half shafts and while you still need 2 controllers they only need half power and they are identical so you can quicker get into economy of scale. I don't think that aspect has to be a problem the price of the motors is likely to be the problem until someone aims for scale. it is a bit of a specialty item and that might create psychological barriers in the manufacturer. yasa is not even an inwheel motor and they certainly tripped themselves up on the price. something ridiculous like 15k$ per motor and controller so that's 30k$ for 2 wheels and 60 for 4 : ) which is just so easy to make a business case out of. top notch thinking. sublime
      PeterScott
      • 2 Years Ago
      Adding 68lbs of unsprung weight to each wheel. Yikes. Also it looks like it has special disc/calipers for braking. Say hello to astronomically priced brake jobs.
        noevfud
        • 2 Years Ago
        @PeterScott
        Brakes on an EV should last 100K plus miles with proper regen. The weight of all that mess would only be good on a utility truck not a car. This needs more development not production.
          PeterScott
          • 2 Years Ago
          @noevfud
          My last 3 brake jobs were from rotors rusting out, not wear. If you live where they have seasons, salt the roads, you are not getting 100K out of rotors.
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 2 Years Ago
        @PeterScott
        unsprung mass doesn't really matter. it only has to be sturdy enough to take the knocks. think of it this way, 31kg wheel hub is normally a lot but that 800Nm translates to 260kg forward push per wheel. so if we say we use 2 such wheels on the rear of a 650kg car, things are not that bad.. freedom from driveshafts, gearboxes, halfshafts, universal joints etc is pretty nice. sure they might well eff it up in many ways like poor availability, ridiculous prices, poor quality etc etc but as a principle it might just fly in certain designs. I don't care about hybrid drive for stupid mercedeses though. but for a pure car it might be pretty cool. one thing to remember with direct drive is the streets of san francisco, not the tv series http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F0wlfmxKdU but the ridiculously steep streets. direct drive cannot simply shift to 1st so it needs to have rather sporty power ratio to manage steep hills. you basically need tesla roadster level acceleration to rely on direct drive and I say why not do that in all cars.. fast way to shed the stupid ICE cars if all electric cars are quick like ferraris
        American Refugee
        • 2 Years Ago
        @PeterScott
        This article gets into it a bit more. http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/07/protean-inside-out-wheel-motor-design-a-company-to-watch.php
        American Refugee
        • 2 Years Ago
        @PeterScott
        They've apparently worked on suspension workarounds that will help with the unsprung weight.
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      2WM I am no expert and might be wrong, but I talked to an automotive engineer at Volvo, who was considering using PML's motors in its electric car. They had even produced a working proto. However, he said there were massive problems with the motors due to vibrations / shocks, and the whole project was cancelled in favor of on-board motors.
      Marcopolo
      • 1 Year Ago
      I hate to be negative about any developing technology, but in-wheel motors have proved consistently disappointing in 4 wheel EV 's travelling a reasonable speeds and distances. There are a myriad of dynamics that affect the wheels of a vehicle, all of which are complicated by placing the motor in the wheel. Like most EV enthusiasts I was at one time very hopeful of in-wheel technology, but after studying the problems, and seeing the failures, I remain still hopeful, but reservedly sceptical of manufacturers claims. Protean is probably correct to decide to produce this product in the PRC. PRC standards and expectations of performance and durability, are much lower than Western consumer standards.
      • 5 Months Ago
      hola a todos . me lamo EDINSON CASTILLO. tecnologo mecanica automotriz, y investigo sobre los autos electricos. quiero decirles a los conferencistas de esta pagina, que mis criticas estan basadas en este sistema, donde con los conocimientos electronicos y la ley ohm, pude ud darle los mayores rendimientos de desplasamientos sin olvidar su frecuencia, por esto debe ser un motor dc. y de iman permanente, y que el vehiculo sea lo menos pesado,para que los resultados sean optimos. solo quiero preguntar las referencias del motor su maxima frecuencia. para poder calcular la energia que debo tener, la que debo consumir y la que debo acumular, tambien quiero conocer su costo. gracias por su atencion y que mi dios los bendiga.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      Do they have any customers?
      skierpage
      • 2 Years Ago
      Arguing over unsprung mass misses the point. This is a solution in search of a problem. The Model S Tesla motor+gearbox+inverter is barely taller than its battery pack and cranks out 310 kW (416 hp). Sure in-wheel can give you the advantages of per-wheel traction vectoring if you increase motor count and cost, but conventional one-motor EVs get much of the benefit from the electronic stability control standard on all European and USA new cars. The upcoming Honda NSX and Porsche 918 Spyder do have separate motors for each front wheel, but they're conventional in-board ones. (Some day someone will make the Tesla Higgs Boson with FOUR of Tesla's motors to compete with the Rimac Concept One!) The Michelin design is great with the active suspension. Enjoy the clips of the Heuliez WILL careening around. But that was in 2008. Maybe it's a great solution and car companies are being overly conservative, but again the Model S shows motor packaging is NOT the major problem. It's all about the battery pack. What happened to the Dutch bus with huge in-wheel motors? Flat predictable conditions, lots of room inside the wheel... sounds like a good use.
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @skierpage
        Hi Skier: You don't seem to have checked out the links to the e-traction bus application. Not only do they work fine, but they decrease drive train and gearbox losses so that they are around 50% more fuel efficient. That is a big deal for both battery and fuel cell applications, as you can reduce the size of the pack or stack, and also for recharging as it makes the time needed at the stop practical. I don't know how much that extra efficiency would carry over to large SUVs etc, but clearly there are efficiency gains in the drive train to be had. As you go to smaller vehicles, then the cost and weight constraints bite more, so in spite of their advantages they seem a more dubious area to expect fast progress.
      DaveMart
      • 2 Years Ago
      One poster here said that Michelin was being disingenuous in claiming no increase in unsprung weight for it's hub motors. This accusation appears to be unwarranted: 'Another method used is to replace the cast iron friction brake assembly with a wheel motor assembly of similar weight. This results in no net gain in unsprung weight and a car capable of braking up to 1G.[12] A good example of this is the Michelin Active Wheel motor as fitted to the Heuliez Will that results in an unsprung weight of 35 kg on the front axle which compares favorably to a small car such as a Renault Clio that has 38 kg of unsprung weight on its front axle.[13]' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_hub_motor Because unsprung weight appears to be something of a non-issue, it does not mean that in-wheel motors have no problems, as their non-appearance to date in production vehicles indicates: 'When I have asked about the hub motor design, most say the design remains too expensive, potentially lower powered, and unreliable for mainstream vehicles. Hub motors are smaller than typical chassis motors (30-50kW vs. 80+kW), which has raised concerns with the amount of power available to the vehicle. The cost of using two 40 kW wheel hub motors is higher than using one 80 kW motor (plus the resulting power is not a simple additive equation as implied by that statement). Add to that a more expensive control unit for the hub motors and you have a drivetrain that pushes the boundaries of cost effectiveness.' http://www.plugincars.com/what-ever-happened-hub-motor-bev-107320.html Although it may be possible to keep the unsprung weight down, that can have knock-on effects on both the durability and cost of the motor.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        I think they are talking about using 100% regen and eliminating the brakes entirely. Which is possible, but only with one formulation of battery in production today - Toshiba's SCiB. But hub motors running at wheel speed do not produce much power; an electric motor running at a very high speed with a gear reduction can most definitely be less than half the weight of the entire setup of 2-4 hub motors. The only advantage of the hub motors is that you can have electronic ABS braking.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Motors are no as light as brakes and motor braking just isn't powerful enough to replace friction brakes.
        PeterScott
        • 2 Years Ago
        @DaveMart
        Why do you think you can get away without friction brakes? I would bet that is a complete non starter from a regulatory perspective. Company Marketers and Spokesdroids make all kinds of outlandish claims for products that are in the prototype stage, that turn out to be wildly exaggerated. I think it is dubious in the extreme to claim, you can add heavy electric motor to a wheel and it will gain no weight. Something Protean doesn't claim. I point out Protean funded study again: www.proteanelectric.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/protean-Services3.pdf "A test vehicle – a 2007 Model Year Ford Focus - was ballasted with 30kg additional mass at each wheel, distributed between rotating and non-rotating unsprung masses in a way which broadly reflects the Protean Electric PD18 product." If Protean didn't think it's motors added mass, why pay precious dollars to have a study done into the effect of ADDING 30KG of unsprung mass on the wheels?? The notion that these are mass neutral is absurd.
          PeterScott
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          Protean didn't produce a solution for the weight, they paid Lotus to do study adding 30KG of unsprung mass and provide some ideas. Backing for allegations of what? That the laws of physics still apply? That if you add 60lbs of motor to a wheel it will be heavier than one without 60lbs of motor. I don't think I need to prove that. If you want to claim that adding 60lb motor won't increase mass, the onus is on you to prove how that is done. Some vague remark from Michelin marketing guy about a prototype isn't exactly evidence.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PeterScott
          You keep making blanket allegations without providing any backing other than your opinion. Because Protean has produced at solution at a particular weight and cost does not mean that other solutions are not possible at lower weight, perhaps using more exotic and costly materials. Clearly substantial obstacles to in-wheel motors in cars remain,, and I have listed some of them, but equally clearly there are many strategies available to minimise unsprung weight, and some of them are listed in the Wiki article I linked above.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ah.. I guess they'll get to learn the hard way about the low efficiency of hub motors, unsprung weight issues, higher weight, and water ingress problems! I've toyed around with 5 different hub motors and eventually realized the ugly truth about them. Yes, they are cool because they fit in the wheel space.. that's about all the positive i can come up with.
        PeterScott
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        There are many concepts that seem simple, efficient and elegant on the surface, but once you get to any depth you release there are too many real world (IE engineering) trade offs. I think in wheel motors are one of those. Pure Series hybrids is another that came up recently. I remember when I first started thinking about electric drive. The thing that appealed to me right away was in wheel motors + series hybrid. Do away with the transmission, have individual wheel control/regen. But it turns out, series hybrids have too many energy conversions and are not very efficient, and in wheel motors have huge packaging issues. Now I think more in terms of Pure EVs and if I was going to go the extra cost of two motors/Two controllers, I would have be more conventional and have one drive each axle for AWD.
        Mart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        From E-traction, who have hub motors in use on buses: Low efficiency? "Real innovation is only achieved when new paradigms are embraced. e-Traction® offers the in-wheel motor system without compromises at a system efficiency of 92%." Unsprung Weight issues? "Q: Does higher unsprung weight affect a comfortable ride? A: Total weight of the unsprung parts (wheelmotors, rims ,tyres and axle) are only 20% heavier than the unsprung parts (wheels, rims, tyres, axle housing, axles, differential) of a normal city bus. Passengers of the Whisper buses are very positive about the comfort of the bus because of the silence and smooth operation as there are no gear shifts. Comfort is therefore at a higher level than normal buses." Water ingess prolems? "Q: The motors are close to the road. Is there danger for shocks and / or water ingress? A:TheWhisper is now driving for 4 years with our city bus with the electronics fitted inside of TheWheel. Shocks and water have till thus far never been a problem."
          PeterScott
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Mart
          "the unsprung parts (wheels, rims, tyres, axle housing, axles, differential) of a normal city bus" Things like counting the differential, only work if you have truck like live axles, like here in a city bus. The vast majority of passenger cars do not have live axles with differentials in the unstrung weight, to offset, so it will be greater than a 20% increase. I like the picture of the motors at the top of the page. Essentially they are conventional industrial Electrical motors, more like big cylinder than the pancake arrangement of Proteans.
          SNP
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Mart
          @Davemart, inwheel motors dont have to be without gears, just fewer gears. You still control the gear sizes and the overall design of it, just a more direct form of rotating the tires. It beats having expensive high powered rods and beams and gears all over the vehicle from engine to wheels.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Mart
          The link for these comments is here: http://www.e-traction.eu/the-wheel/frequently-asked-questions I think this relevant: Q: Why install a motor in the wheels of a vehicle A: Because a direct-drive has to provide enough torque to drive a vehicle without gears - and needs a larger diameter to do so. Integrating direct-drive into a vehicle will take considerable in-vehicle space.
        Anne
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Electric bicycles have hub motors...
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        OK.. read your post.. 1) 92% efficiency is extraordinarily high for a hub motor in a small wheel, however they are very likely quoting the peak efficiency, and not talking about what happens outside of 80%-90% of the unloaded speed, which is often very poor for hub motors ( narrow efficiency band due to lower RPM ) Such a motor could likely be more efficient if it was spinning faster than road speed, and geared down to wheel speed, with a more broad efficiency band and higher torque as a bonus. There is a little loss in a gear reduction system, but not enough to outweigh the benefit. 2) more comfortable than an internal combustion bus.. well, that's a benchmark that's not hard to beat at all :P.. also on a bus, unsprung weight is a fraction of the total weight of the vehicle, you can't compare it to a car, which is expected to handle turns, bumps, etc much better. 3) All hub motor manufacturers say that there are no water ingress problems with their designs, yet in the eBike community, we have failed to find a hub motor that WON'T rust out due to condensation / water. Maybe our water sealing systems are lacking because the motors are cheap, but nobody has ever found a solution, even the best engineers who have tried. It has to do with the fact that the seals will contract and expand as the motor heats up and cools down. Water eventually gets in there. Take that claim from the manufacturer with a costco-sized grain of salt.
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Dave; those specs are awful!! even worse than some of the worst eBike hub motors i've seen! Here's a whopper: "On average TheWheelâ„¢ uses only half the electric energy of a typical geared traction motor" That's a pretty bold lie! in reality, the efficiency differs a few percentage points, usually in favor of the motor with a gear reduction on it.. More marketing BS from electric drive manufacturers.. just what we needed!
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          @2WM: If you go to the e-traction website and read through, you would see that the full efficiency graphs are there. It ain't a theory about the efficiency, or the lack of water ingress, it is 4 years of experience running them at up to 30C and down to near arctic conditions. As for why they have to date been no good in bikes, they must need extreme light weight, and it seems unlikely that this application has vast development resources behind it.
      SNP
      • 2 Years Ago
      I dont know much about the complexity of having 1 inwheel motor in bikes, but from what I remembered, the thought of doing the calculations for the controllers of a 4 inwheeled vehicle would stump multiple phd students. Getting timing of 4wheels correct is a challenge i'd assume, then you gotta account for slip, feedback from other wheels if one wheel loses sync, turning of the wheels - on various level's inclinations of terrain, and all this doesnt even include the materials behind it. This company will fail. As complex as modern cars are, there's only one engine/one motor. 2 in a hybrid, but they're not completely independent for both steering and drive. And you dont have to worry that each pothole you hit @60mph will break a motor. Anyway, back to the ebikes thing. I can see how having it on a chain might be easier because everybody else does it, but why not just attach it to some gears and avoid the chain entirely? And then go for the higher HP motors, i think they have 5-15lb step motors that can do 2000-3000rpm, and with the right microcontroller attached to the stepmotor, you can just vary the speed digitally.
      DaveMart
      • 2 Years Ago
      @Peter: You wish to claim that Michelin's unsprung weight means nothing about that on the Protean, but conversely argue that if the Protean system does not reduce unsprung mass, then the Michelin system can't. There appears to be a logical gap there. I don't know why the Michelin system has not made it onto the road yet, but an inference that this is due to unsprung weight rather than a host of other possible issues seems flimsy A possible reason why the Protean system at least in some applications may not reduce weight is that they appear to want to put it into standard cars, not just ones engineered specifically for them, often in hybrid applications. Your reply in no way addresses what appear to be very sound remarks by EV Now, specifically on the potential weight savings from replacing the friction brake system and doing away with the live axle.
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