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Hyundai reinvents the wheel

Hyundai promises to make parallel parking a whole lot easier while throwing conventional vehicle engineering out the window by reinventing the wheel. Rather than having a motor attached to shafts driving the wheels, the Korean giant is planning to put electric motors inside all four wheels and making them all steerable. That will put four-wheel steering and four-wheel drive into an electric vehicle.

If that all sounds wildly experimental and futuristic to you, then think again, because Hyundai reckons it will be using the technology on its electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as early as 2020.

Turn on the spot
The technology will allow vehicles to effectively turn on the spot and go-round in circles, but that's just the start of the advantages. The in-wheel motors do away with conventional brakes, letting regenerative braking do the work of stopping the vehicle. It also does away with drive shafts, differentials, universal joints and of course centrally mounted motors. This simplifies the components and reduces vehicle weight and power loss. By putting the motors in the wheels it also frees up a lot of space in the vehicle. From an engineering perspective the only downside is that it adds a lot of weight to the wheels, which requires improved suspensions.

Hyundai has been working on the technology for some time and first introduced it to the world at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show in its fuel cell electric concept car 'N2025 Vision Gran Turismo'. It's now planning to mass produce vehicles with the technology and is currently testing its safety in a range of conditions, such as wet and icy roads and rough surfaces.

The company's second generation in-wheel motors are producing 23kw each, an improvement of 44% from its first generation 16kw motors.

Big torque
Hyundai may be ahead of the pack here but it's by no means the only player in the game. In fact Elaphe, a Slovenian company, designs a range of in-wheel motors for small passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks. Its latest creation, the L1500, is capable of putting out 1500Nm of torque and a whopping 110kW of power. That's 147 horsepower for old-timers. With one of these on each wheel that's more than enough grunt to pull a caravan on any weekend. By comparison the 2.0 litre twin turbo diesel in the current Ford Ranger Raptor produces 156.7kW and 500Nm.

Elaphe's CEO, Gorard Lampiča, is upbeat about the technology's potential in electric vehicles.

“Our technology enables manufacturers to design and produce electric or hybrid vehicles rapidly and cost-effectively without compromise to their existing vehicle architectures or complex packaging. The technology also integrates seamlessly with autonomous driving applications, providing feedback data, unprecedented responsiveness, and enhanced vehicle controllability,” according to Lampiča.

“The technology allows for complete design freedom and the potential for increased regenerative braking. In-wheel powertrain can also help reduce the overall required battery capacity and cost. These advantages offer OEMs an immediate opportunity to build more unique and functional electric and hybrid vehicles that consumers want and are cost-effective to manufacture.”

Who says reinventing the wheel is a useless waste of time?

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