Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Want 600 horsepower? Take the engine out of your car.

By Lorne Craig on October 6, 2009

It’s a daring leap of logic that could delight motorheads and granola crunchers alike. By taking the motor out from under the hood and putting electromotors in one or more of the vehicle’s wheels, engineers can now burn rubber without burning carbon.

In 2008, a company called PML Flightlink unveiled a Ford F-150 at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. The truck was modified by removing the V-8 engine and adding four in-wheel motors. These gave the pickup more than 600 horsepower, about twice as much as it had with the standard V-8. Each motor weighed only 30 kilograms and gained power from a 454-kilogram lithium-ion battery that provided the truck with a range of 100 miles (161 kilometers) before recharging.

The Michelin in-wheel system shown above contains the braking system, an active suspension system and the electric motor that actually drives the wheel. The in-wheel active suspension system is electrically operated and can react in 3/1,000ths of a second to automatically correct pitch and roll.

One of the greatest advantages of in-wheel electric motors is the fact that power goes straight from the motor directly to the wheel. In city driving conditions, an internal combustion engine may only run at 20 percent efficiency. An in-wheel electric motor in the same environment is said to operate at about 90 percent efficiency [source: Lepisto].

Unfortunately, being engineers and not marketers, PML Flightlink called their truck the HI-PA Drive. (”HI, PA…. I’m a goin’ to the feed store… want anythin’?”)

There’s a wealth of marketing possibility in a green vehicle with so much performance. Not to mention a whole new place to store your green groceries. Under the hood.

Image credit: Michelin North America, Inc.