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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ford F-150 4WD Wheel Motor Electric Vehicle TEST DRIVE

Here is the most recent demonstration of the prototype wheel motors produced by British company PML Flightlink. The F-150 Show vehicle was put together for SEMA last November. Unfortunately that same month EM Shires and RW Birchall were appointed as Joint Administrators of PML Flightlink Limited on 28th November 2008 to manage its affairs.

The test drive lacks any convincing demonstration of torque and for a vehicle that PML claim has 600 hp, I'd have to say that's laughable. Much like the Volvo S40 demonstrated at a Swedish test track where Volvo reps claimed it had 1000 Nm per wheel, the PML F-150 struggles to climb even minor grades and is only ever shown at a constant speed thereby avoiding any demonstration of acceleration which, of course, would be a demonstration of power.

Never the less, the PML demonstration vehicles have allowed a preview into the future of EV motoring. Volvo estimate it may take up to 10 years for such technology to reach the show rooms. This is not necessarily because of any technical barrier, although it is still a very new area of automotive development, but they say it's more to do with business models.

As every automaker in the world struggles to find a totally new business model that incorporates batteries as a major percentage of the cost of manufacturing cars, wheel motors will also cause a similarly significant adjustment in the costs for automakers. Todays car manufacturers have billions of dollars invested in plant and machinery to turn out internal combustion engines, gearboxes and assorted components. All this plant becomes worthless overnight if the entire industry shifts to battery electric vehicles.

The only thing that looks like an electrical device on todays cars is the 100 amp alternator charging the battery, and they are often supplied by a sub contractor. While wheel motors allow the entire mechanical power train bar the steering and suspension to be deleted from a car, todays automakers don't have the plant or engineering skills to make wheel motors, any more than they can suddenly start making li-ion batteries.

If automakers have to buy batteries and wheel motors from outside suppliers, and these make up the most significant cost component of building cars, then they are reduced to the role of carriage maker where their primary function is to press steel into car bodies while the bulk of the profit from each car goes to outside suppliers. Obviously they want to avoid this situation at all costs.

Give these factors it is easy to see why todays big names in the auto industry have resisted the move to EVs for as long as possible, but the Volvo estimate of 2020 sounds like way too long to have to wait before they find a suitable business model to start making electric cars with wheel motors

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