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UK motor-maker wins $10m wheel-hub motor order for 250km/h SUV

08 May, 2007

A small British motor manufacturer has clinched a $10m deal to supply a US company with advanced wheel-hub motors for a high-performance electric vehicle it is developing. Under the deal, the Californian electric vehicle manufacturer Zap will buy wheel-hub motors made by Hampshire-based PML Flightlink for use in its 250km/h Zap-X all-electric SUV (sports utility vehicle).

The four wheel-hub motors will give the Zap-X a peak power of 480kW (644hp), allowing it to accelerate from a standstill to 96km/h (60mph) in 4.8 seconds. The vehicle, which has a projected range of 563km (350 miles) on a single battery charge, is based on a concept vehicle designed in the UK by Lotus Engineering (below).

Lotus APX

"We have witnessed the PML wheel motor technology in action and, without question, this is the best system in the world," says Steve Schneider, Zapís chief executive. According to Schneider, wheel-hub motors are revolutionising electric transport by distributing the weight and the drive train to the four corners of a vehicle and using regenerative braking to enhance efficiency and performance. There is no need for gears or complex conventional braking systems.

PMLís Hi-Pa drive integrates the drive electronics into the brushless permanent magnet motor to create a power density 20 times higher than conventional drive systems. It delivers high torque from a lightweight, weatherproof pancake motor whose impact on suspension dynamics is said to be minimal.

The water-cooled, 24-phase, 1,800 rpm motors are driven by 120kW IGBT inverters, capable of delivering 480A at 450V. Each motor and drive combination weighs just 24kg. The motors incorporate heavy-duty tapered roller bearings designed to withstand heavy radial loads.

PML has built several levels of redundancy into its design and claims that any single failure will not prevent the vehicle from operating safely. It suggests that the drive will be 20 times more reliable than conventional systems.

PML Flightlink has already demonstrated its motor technology in a converted BMW Mini One. The privately owned company has more than 30 years experience of developing motors and controls.

Since Zap was founded in 1994, it has delivered more than 90,000 vehicles to customers in more than 75 countries. It focuses on advanced technologies such as fuel cells and hybrid electric drive systems. Zap hopes to put the Zap-X on sale by the end of next year at a price of around $60,000.

The Zap-X will be based on an aluminium chassis developed by Lotus Engineering for its APX concept vehicle. "The venture with Zap is a dream come true because we are creating the most advanced electric vehicles in history," says Lotusí chief executive, Albert Lam. "The technology is ready for electric vehicles so they donít have to be slow, they can have a long range, and they can be exciting to look at."

Zapís initial order with PML Flightlink is for $10m worth of wheel-hub motors.

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