This year, Group Michelin didn't just stage Challenge Bibendum, the annual and worldwide showcase for developments in sustainable mobility. It entered two of its own cars: Hy-Light and Concept.
The world's largest tire maker hasn't decided suddenly to go into competition with the world's automobile manufacturers. But it has developed a tire/wheel/suspension package and wanted to provide a demonstration of how well it works.
``Sometimes,'' said Group Michelin Managing Partner Edouard Michelin, ``we like to reinvent the wheel.''
In this case, the reinvention involves not just the wheel but the space inside it. Instead of just a brake disc or drum and nothing else but air, Michelin found a way to package the entire suspension system inside the wheel. By using electric motors to turn those wheels and to manipulate the various suspension components, Michelin Active Wheel technology can eliminate things such as the vehicle's traditional braking system and transmission.
Hy-Light, created in conjunction with Switzerland's Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) national research laboratory, is a front-wheel-drive vehicle with traction motors powered by a hydrogen fuel cell that also supplies electrical power for the four-wheel chassis stability (suspension) system.
Super capacitors that store energy created during braking act as a sort of supercharger to boost electrical power for spurts of as long as 20 seconds. The fuel cell generates 30 kilowatts with the super capacitors adding another 45 so the car can accelerate from a standing start to 62 mph in 12 seconds on its way to a top speed of more than 80 mph.
Hy-Light also provides a range of some 250 miles before refueling-``realistic for a daily, useable car,'' said Philipp Dietrich, head of technology transfer for PSI.
Mr. Dietrich also noted that the same electric motors that are used to turn a Michelin Active Wheel can be used to slow and stop those wheels. And the electromechanical suspension is fully active, providing a smooth and comfortable ride that literally soaks up any bumps in the road, but instantly firming for the sort of quick, evasive maneuvers a driver might need to avoid a collision.
Michelin said Hy-Light is an example of a non-polluting vehicle-it runs on renewable energy: hydrogen produced by electrolysis using solar cells, which might be practical by around 2020.
Concept has electric motors inside all four of its wheels, with a fully active suspension that can be tuned to lean through corners like a motorcycle or to lift and lower the vehicle like a hot-rod low-rider. Concept is a gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle designed to showcase a variety of electromechanical technologies.