It's a bold and unprecedented time for the automotive industry. Automakers are pouring billions of dollars into future electric vehicle (EV) battery production facilities and charging stations all over North America.
Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia are no exception.
While they have had to bear some misfortune as of late, in the form of a billion-dollar lawsuit from their ongoing “Kia Boys” saga, Hyundai is also pushing forward with ambitious plans for a nearly 3,000-acre Metaplant in Savannah, Georgia, that will serve as their US headquarters for EV and battery production.
However, constructing their vast Metaplant facility is just one step forward for the Korean automaker. They're also moving forward with a new “Universal Drive System,” the “Uni Wheel.”
Why EVs Allow For Architectural Innovation
Many people have noticed that many new EV designs differ from traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle designs. It's because mechanical necessity determines a car's architecture. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
EVs don't require large radiators to keep from overheating because they're more energy efficient than ICEs. Their powertrains are also significantly different. ICEs have to house massive engines and gearboxes, with their size and weight determined by their mechanical requirements, and logically end up under a vehicle's hood (most of the time).
Vehicle designs have to accommodate what powers them.
Where EVs significantly differ is that their most sizable element is their battery. However, those batteries can come in numerous shapes and sizes, freeing car makers to try out designs that would not be possible with ICE vehicles. Electric motors also give automakers more design freedom. They could place them inside a car's wheels if they wanted to.
So, different parts equal a chance to innovate vehicle architecture, as Hyundai does with their “Universal” drivetrain concept.
How the “Uni Wheel” Will Work
The idea is that Hyundai's “Uni Wheel” will allow their EV drivetrains to be moved (most modern vehicles have front-wheel drive and drivetrains located at the front of the car) into the wheel hubs. Effectively, this would create a streamlined driveline, which means that EVs are not bound to the same configurations that ICEs have historically used to transfer power to a car's wheels. What makes this concept potentially so innovative is that designers could use the Uni Wheel in other modes of transportation like wheelchairs or bikes.
Moving their vehicle's gear-reduction transmission from the underside of the vehicle into the wheel hub will also free up space inside the car.
Where the Uni Wheel differentiates itself from the typical constant velocity axle is how it creates articulation from its epicyclic train of gears housed in the hub. It could also increase operational efficiency by adding a few more miles to the vehicle's driving range.