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Announced in early 2020, the Kia Corp (then Kia Motors) announced its “Plan S” business strategy. A two-fork path, one side focuses on the development of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), and the other side leads down the road of purpose-built vehicles (PBVs). After all the new concepts released this year, such as the Kia EV5, Kia EV4, and even the Kia EV3, the BEV side of things doing well. Shifting the paradigm of BEV architecture and design, the Kia Corp and its parent group Hyundai Motor Group (HMG), reveal a new propulsion system that can be utilized to design flat-floor interiors to create a mobile living space (PBVs) for the driver and passengers. It’s called the “Uni Wheel”.
Kia and HMG have become much more invested in PBVs since their discussions about PBV production three years ago. In 2022, Kia announced plans to build a new PBV E-FOREST production facility, and soon after, HMG launched a new robotaxi service, RoboRide. In 2023, Kia revealed its first test PBV, the Niro Plus, currently available to taxi drivers in South Korea. Most recently, a new robotaxi service already familiar to the U.S. is being brought to the roads by HMG and Motional. Robotaxis isare a good start for a PBV, since it’s still designed to be a car and what drivers and passengers are used to. The next step is to design a PBV that has multiple uses, and that starts from the platform up.
Currently, HMG and Kia BEVs ride on an Electric-Global Modular Platform, or E-GMP, like the Kia EV6. The Uni Wheel is a proposed platform to replace the E-GMP on a universal scale, called a Universal Wheel Drive System. It’s not just a name, it’s also pretty symbolic of the new design for this propulsion system. To understand, take an internal combustion engine (ICE) powertrain setup. It’s a lot of stuff taking up the front part of the car. For BEVs, instead of the front of the car, motors and battery packs tend to impact the passenger and cargo space of the interior. To work around this, the Uni-Wheel places the main drive system components into the vacant space within the wheel hub, and bam – a completely new platform for the future of BEVs.
It seems a little mechanical at first, but it’s all electric in the end. The design for the Uni-Wheel takes inspiration from our own solar system. This special planetary gear configuration comes with a motor that transmits power to the sun gear in the center, which then engages four pinion gears on each side, to rotate a ring gear surrounding this arrangement. Altogether, the system is connected to each wheel to drive the vehicle. It’s a multi-link mechanism formed by form two linkages to enable Uni Wheel’s multi-axis movement. Combined with an electronic air suspension that can adjust ride height depending on the driving situation, stability can be increased on bumpy or rough roads, and height can be decreased for more control in high-speed driving situations that require power and stability.
The design essentially leads to a flat-form design for the interior space, which offers strong flexibility and scalability configuration for PBVs. In the past, HMG once showcased the capabilities of PBVs with a video clip of a mobile hospital room. Other examples were virtual reality tours of the moon. Think IMAX Regal RDX, and it’s better than that.
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