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Lordstown Motors' Big Gamble on Hub Motors

Electric cars are gaining traction in the marketplace as Tesla builds a devoted following.

But is America ready for an all-electric pickup truck?

The start-up Lordstown Motors is betting on it.

They’re hoping to produce America’s first electric pickup and as WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports, part of Lordstown’s gamble is a different approach to electric motors.

[ hmmm ] 

This may be the sound of the pickup of the future.

At least that’s what Steve Burns, CEO of Lordstown Motors is betting on.

It’s the whirr of an in-wheel, or hub motor ramping up as part of a promotional video.

Burns last year bought the former GM Lordstown plant to build his new Endurance pickup truck…

“We’re here to put Lordstown on the back of every tailgate we make…”

What he won’t be putting into the pickup is a typical truck engine…

“This vehicle has four moving parts in the drivetrain, that’s the four wheels.”

Inside those four wheels are electric motors that Burns says are larger versions of those seen scattered on sidewalks in American cities…

“You see a Lime or Bird scooter -  the invention that made all those happen is the hub motor…”

Actually the hub motor goes back to the dawn of the automobile…

Ferdinand Porsche debuted his hub-motor car at the 1900 Paris Exhibition.

Burns debuted his pickup last week - 

[ music ]

The sleek truck took a couple laps around the plant before gliding on stage…

Passenger Vice President Mike Pence offered modest praise…

“I gotta tell you it’s a nice ride, and I’m a truck guy…”

But why did it take 120 years for another car maker to use hub motors on a commercial vehicle?

One reason, according to engineer and electric power author Sam Davis is physics…

“The feature they call the unsprung mass, that’s the weight of the motor carried in each powered wheel…”

Each Endurance hub-motor weighs around 70 pounds, add the tire weight and it’s more than twice as heavy as an average pickup wheel.

Davis says it can be hard to maintain the balance of all that shifting weight…

“Every time the car hits a bump, or a pot hole, or a speed bump all the weight has to get started in one direction and then move in the opposite direction…”

Burns says it was a challenge…

“The suspension, to handle the unsprung weight, to dampen that appropriately, that was a lot of work.”

But he’s confident his engineers tackled it.

“Some of these things are subjective but we believe it will handle better than any pickup made.”

Part of that handling equation is the computer software that controls the hub motors.

Burns began his career in software development and it still drives his approach to car making…

“To me they’re software with a lot of metal wrapped around them…”

Industry watcher Robert Schoenberger says getting the hub motors synched is the first step…

“Then they can take on some really fascinating ideas on how to control those.”

He says electronic control of each wheel’s speed means precision cornering with hub motors…

“And it gets really crazy when you start talking about things like running the wheels in different directions.”

Burns says he’s not going crazy with the software just yet, but his computer system is ready to handle the very serious situation of a dead hub-motor …

“Say a motor in front failed. We would quickly in a millisecond switch off the other front motor so it doesn’t pull to the right or left, and you still get home with the two rear wheels.”

Lordstown Motors is licensing their hub-motor design from a Slovenian company called Elaphe [ el-LAFF-ee].

You Tube videos show Elaphe’s motors slammed against concrete, dipped in mud, bathed in salt spray, and frozen solid...

Burns says his hub-motors are ready for Ohio roads and winters…

“In ice, hitting pot holes, simulating 200,000 miles of abuse…”

Sharon Carty, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver is cautiously optimistic about Lordstown’s willingness to try something new…

“It could be a disaster, it could be great. It’s hard to tell from the outside until you actually get your hands on these things.”

Carty says while hub-motor technology has come of age…

“Whether or not the buying public is ready for electric pickup trucks is a different story.”

Lordstown Motors is focusing on the fleet vehicle market which may be willing to take that risk if the economics make sense.

It already has 14,000 orders lined up for next summer when, coronavirus allowing, the first trucks will roll off the line.

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