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| 12:50 PM EST

UPDATE: Protean Opens Electric Wheel-Hub Drive Facility in China


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Protean Electric Inc. is ramping up capacity in Liyang, China, this year to build as many as 100,000 of its in-hub electric drive units annually.

The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company announced plans for the factory a year ago shortly before receiving $84 million in new funding from four investors, including Liyang. The facility will supply prototypes and low-volume production units and by next year be able to demonstrate mass-production feasibility.

The Chinese facility eventually will have two lines able to produce as many as 50,000 hub drives each, beginning with a 75-kW unit designed for crossovers, SUVs, pickup trucks and most cars. A second line will make a more compact unit intended for small cars. Protean says it expects to license its motor to an unspecified high-volume carmaker.

The company's in-hub direct drive can replace the conventional two- or four-wheel-drive powertrain in cars, SUVs and pickup trucks. The module also can be used in combination with a standard two-wheel drive system to quickly create a hybrid powertrain.

The Protean design replaces the standard wheel hub and brake assembly with a large stator that revolves with the wheel and a stationary armature attached to the wheel spindle. Each module integrates its own electronic control unit, thus allowing wheel-by-wheel torque vectoring and skid control.

The system also eliminates the need for external gearing, a transmission, driveshafts, axles and differentials.

Protean says its 75-kW unit weighs 31 kg (68 lb), generates 1,000 Nm (738 lb-ft) of torque and can be fitted to virtually any vehicle with 18- to 24-inch wheels. The company claims its technology can boost a vehicle's fuel economy 30% or more.

Earlier this week competitor Schaeffler Group announced advances in its own in-wheel electric drive system that boost output and reduce complexity.

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