We’ve seen the Ford Fiesta offered with a numbrer of different powertrains, ranging from small three-cylinder engines to turbocharged four-cylinder engines with 197 hp, but until now, we hadn’t seen one powered by electricity, like this new Fiesta eWheelDrive prototype.
Like its larger Focus Electric sibling, the Fiesta eWheelDrive is propelled by an electric motor, which is powered by a battery pack – but remarkably, that’s about where the similarities end. Where the Focus Electric puts an electric motor up front where the combustion engine and transaxle once rested, the electric Fiesta eWheelDrive uses a different approach.
Developed in partnership with German supplier Schaeffler, Fiesta eWheelDrive uses a pair of electric motors, each mounted within the wheel assembly itself. Typically referred to as an in-wheel electric motor, the technology isn’t all that new – GM showed a demonstration vehicle in 2004 with the technology, and Mitsubishi has played with in-wheel motors since 2005 – but it’s still worth pursuing. As you can see from these images, the electric motor, brake system, and cooling system are all packaged neatly within the confines of the wheel/tire package (the inverter, however, still appears to eat up considerable space underhood).
Not only does that make converting an existing car into a battery-electric vehicle a little easier, but it play a bigger role in designing new electric vehicles from scratch. Since in-wheel motors occupy far less space than today’s electric drivelines, engineers could free up space within the vehicle’s body for additional battery packs or increase passenger and/or cargo volumes. Likewise, they could also retain a given passenger volume while reducing the overall footprint of the car. Better yet, because there is no mechanical drive element outside of the wheel assembly, Schaeffler suggests future steering systems could cut the wheel at a near-perpendicular angle, easing parking in congested areas.
“This is an exciting concept, because it potentially opens new options for the development of zero-emission vehicles with very efficient packaging and exceptional maneuverability, said Pim van der Jagt, director of Ford’s European advanced engineering teams, in a prepared release. “We have the opportunity to scope out the vehicle’s capabilities and how we might overcome some of the challenges presented by implementing the technology.”
Does this prototype mean a Fiesta EV – with in-wheel electric motors – is nigh? Probably not – a shame, since a small, lithe, rear-drive EV with rear-wheel drive and instant torque sounds fun – but Ford notes it will again work with Schaeffer and a number of other partners on an EV project that aims to produce two new roadworthy vehicles by 2015.