Active Wheels and the fuel cell
Active Wheels are not exactly new as the project was already presented at the 2008 World Car Show, but since then it has evolved to become more reliable and more efficient and aims at becoming industrially feasible.
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Technically, it is a question of extending the wheel as we know it. One solution integrates the engine, the suspension and the braking systems in the vehicle's wheels. Yes yes, in the wheels! The smart wheel is able to drive the car electrically (by means of a miniature electric motor), while at the same time providing the suspension and braking functions. The system is comprised of a tyre, an electric drive system, active suspension and friction braking. It is a solution that could free the vehicle from its engine and its gears for substantial space savings.
Each wheel is fitted with an independent system that can be fitted to a 2-wheel drive vehicle (1 Active Wheel on each of the front wheels, and 2 identical sets on the rear wheels but without motors) or a 4-wheel drive vehicle (1 Active Wheel on each wheel). The power supplied by a pair of Active Wheels is 60 Kw, or about 40 horsepower.
With this solution, Michelin is reinventing the wheel, and is offering a coherent system where the drive axles, the engine and tyres are developed to work together in close collaboration, thus offering better chassis management than a traditional solution.
To conclude the theoretical technical demonstration, we had the opportunity of getting our first go in the Heuliez Will. A concept developed on the basis of an Opel Agila equipped like a front wheel drive (1 Active Wheel on each of the front wheels, and 2 identical sets on the rear wheels but without motors). As the car is under development, we weren't able to drive it.
The first observation is the noise. The noise emitted by the 2 little electric motors is very similar to that of a metro, and despite the low power announced, the vitality of the electric power is very appreciable with excellent responsiveness, the main characteristic of the electric motor.
The route was that of a small gymkhana, and Michelin's aim was to demonstrate the incredible dynamic potential of such a system. After the first corners it was obvious that there is a total absence of roll, rotation on acceleration or dive on braking. The car remains perfectly horizontal, and the tyres work perfectly too. There is total harmony between the elements of the Active Wheels and in this configuration the comfort of the system is impressive. However, we don't know if the test would be as conclusive on a bumpy road.
With this project, Michelin demonstrates good technical mastery of a technology which could equip the cars of tomorrow.
The Michelin Fuel Cell
To power its Active Wheels, as there was nothing on the market corresponding to its needs, Michelin developed a very elaborate fuel cell. The system is characterised by its weight, half that of the equivalent systems available on the market, and has significantly improved autonomy of up to 200 kilometres.
This product was developed on the basis of a vehicle designed for local authorities, called the F-City H2. A historically symbolic car as it was the first car running on hydrogen to be registered in France. Refills remain a problem, as unlike Germany, France only has a very few filling stations.
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