Ever noticed how once you hear of something new, suddenly you hear about it everywhere you go? Just a few days ago, we did a story about the Michelin Vision 3D printed wheel. One person commented that it would be ideal if it had an electric motor embedded into it. Yesterday, we got an email from Luka Ambrozic, an engineer who is also a spokesperson for Elaphe Motors, a Slovenian company that is doing pioneering work with in-wheel motors.

Elaphe in wheel motors

Elaphe Distributed Propulsion System

The are several important features about what Elaphe calls is distributed propulsion system. First, the in-wheel motors are compatible with standard disc brakes and require no modifications to the axle hubs or bearings. That’s a huge advantage. Second, they offer true all-wheel drive capability. Thanks to sophisticated electronics, each wheel can get precisely the amount of power and torque it needs and no more.

With all due respect to Elon Musk and his battalions of outstanding engineers, a Tesla with dual motors has four-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive. That’s a small but important distinction. Four separate electric motors allow for torque vectoring, a snazzy new buzz phrase that means each wheel can operate independently from the other three.

More Power, More Torque

Elaphe has fitted a BMW X6 with what it calls its electric in-wheel motors and tested it against a conventionally powered X6. The car equipped with in-wheel motors was faster than the original — both forward and backward! Watch the video for proof of its prowess. The dramatic music makes it highly entertaining.

Ambrozic says, “We completely transformed the car. We took out everything that had to do with the inefficiencies of the internal combustion engine and central architecture and replaced it with electrical components, plus added a battery.

“But what makes this car special is the way the vehicle is driven. It uses 4 high torque direct drive electric motors, mounted completely inside the rims, built around a standard disc brake and bearing. It’s just incredible what innovative in-wheel technology can do.”

The European Union has given Elaphe Motors a €1 million grant to develop the technology and find industrial partners.

New Automotive Design Possibilities

The possibilities for the automobile industry created by in-wheel motors are enormous. Putting the power of a car in the wheels themselves opens up many new and innovative packaging solutions for people and cargo. Even though cars will always need a significant crash structure out ahead of the passenger compartment (at least until self-driving technology eliminates collisions), eliminating bulky electric motors will open up many new design solutions.

Better Handling, Too

One thing we don’t know is how adding the mass of the in-wheel motors affects the ride and handling characteristics of a vehicle. But the company offers this hint: “With an improved center of gravity and exceptional weight distribution, this large SUV (the BMW X6) is able to reach 1.08 lateral g’s of acceleration during cornering, putting it alongside the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Porsche 911 GT3 RS and McLaren 650 S Spider.”

That certainly sounds promising. We would be happy to send a Gas2 representative (I am available, btw) on a trip to Slovenia to find out firsthand what driving the electrified X6 is like and report on our findings.