The citizens of Great Britain are, to say the least, a skeptical lot. Tell them white is white and they will question how many shades of gray that includes. Tell them their borders are safe from invasion and watch the barricades appear in the streets like scenes from Les Miserables. Offer them a fair choice and they will ask what the catch is. Not that they’re all like that of course; some of them are true cynics.
Thus, when they are told electric vehicles are The New Big Automotive Thing, the best reaction you will get from them is “we’ll see,” possibly with an added snort of derision. In short, the take up of electric cars has been slow for all the reasons we now know, including range anxiety and the lack of fast-charging.
It is a fact, however, that the rate of purchase for electric cars is increasing, albeit slowly. Some of the cars are very good indeed and really quite fun, but unless your driving is confined to a local area or short journeys generally, they just don’t measure up. Under no circumstances will we Brits undertake a long trip and be content to sit in a car park for an hour or more just to get a battery boost.
Sales of EVs are not helped by the charging issue. They simply do not top up quickly enough even if you are lucky to find an unoccupied charger or one not broken down, and there’s a lot of those. This really is a scenario where the cart has been put before the horse and it has had a detrimental effect on sales, no matter how otherwise excellent the cars are.
Powering The Future
So that problem continues to be ongoing. It does appear there is a slow improvement although the vacillations of politicians continually hold the entrepreneurial go-getting spirit back. They want us in electric cars and then fail to aid the process. Where have we heard that before?
Fortunately, the automotive industry persists. 2018 is likely to bring many new automotive innovations to the fore along with some striking new electric and hybrid cars (thankfully, for the old school road warrior, also a couple of V8 road monsters like the new Bentley Bentayga V8. Boom! Get this dust in your batteries Mr. Electric).
At the recent global CES (Consumer Technology Association) conference, some technological advances were presented by car makers. Hyundai is introducing a fuel cell vehicle with autonomous features, for example, and Kia was featuring a new, all-electric concept that demonstrated the brand’s future. There is, however, one new development, years in the planning, that is likely to change the electric car market, and also possibly change the mind of UK car buyers, even cynics like me.
Electric hub motors within the wheels are really here. It’s the coming thing and it seems rightly inevitable this is the way forward for pure electric drive. It is entirely true the concept is not new, but that it is now proven to work is the point. A British-based company (Hurrah! Ain’t dead yet World!) has spent the last eight years designing and developing a unique and very versatile in-wheel electric drive system for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric light-duty vehicles. The system can, they say, improve vehicle fuel economy, add torque, increase power, and improve the handling of both new and, crucially, existing vehicles. This indicates no absolute need to necessarily develop brand new models to fit the technology.
I’ll Let Jennifer Aniston Take Over (Joke for TV addicts)
Here’s the science bit: This fully-integrated, direct-drive solution combines in-wheel motors with an integrated inverter, control electronics, and software – no separate large, heavy, and costly inverter is required. Each motor fits easily in the unused space behind a conventional 18 to 24-inch wheel that can, cleverly, use the original equipment wheel bearing. The system, I have learned, reduces part count, complexity, and cost. There is no need to integrate traditional drivetrain components such as external gearing, transmissions, driveshafts, axles, and differentials.
The developer says each motor can produce 81kW, equivalent to 109 bhp, and thus presumably, a basic two-wheel-drive electric car could conceivably produce peak power of 218 bhp and a huge woosh of torque. Put that in your toy city car millennials!
But Does It really Work?
Yes, is the short answer. It has been tested successfully in a Volkswagen Golf although not without issues it has to be said. With the extra weight in the wheels, the vehicle’s drive dynamics change. To counter this, the suspension of the test car was tuned by an independent vehicle dynamics expert. This was shown to work and the additional unsprung weight was handled successfully. The test car was made to handle as well as a standard model. The effect on tire wear was not mentioned and I do wonder about that.
As with any automotive advance, I have doubts it will be plain sailing, but this does seem, to me, to be a worthwhile new development in the advancement of the electric car. The potential for simplified drivetrains and some real enthusiast levels of performance, with both two and four-wheel drive vehicles, is clear.
Sure, it’s expensive right now, but once rolling as it were, further development and economies of scale will solve that problem. With the much-vaunted advances from Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his henchmen at Tesla, and elsewhere in battery and charging technology, it may well mean the electric car will soon make sense for all drivers. If that’s the case you can count me in.
Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite