French tiremaker Michelin has joined forces with MGL, a Chinese firm that supplies battery materials, to co-develop electric powertrains for hybrid and plug-in electric passenger cars. According to a story in Automotive News, these new drivetrains will incorporate Michelin's Active Wheel technology -- hardware that was highlighted on the Venturi Volage EV Concept car at the recent Paris Auto Show -- and use MGL's advanced Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. The two organizations are working together to create suitable system controllers.

MGL, part of the government-owned conglomerate China CITIC Group Corp., supplied Lithium-ion batteries for the 50 zero-emissions busses used to shuttle athletes to various events at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Michelin, while best known for tires, developed its Active Wheel technology specifically for use in electric and fuel-cell vehicles. The Active Wheel assembly packages suspension components and chassis-control motors inside the wheel itself, literally eliminating the need for many conventional drivetrain elements, including the transmission, clutch and universal joints as well as anti-roll bars.

The Automotive News report claims the Michelin/MGL effort has already led to an electric vehicle based on a Chinese domestic sedan called the Lifan 520. This EV variant has a top speed of 87 mph and can travel 60-80 miles before needing a four-hour recharge to top off its battery pack. MGL is currently producing batteries at its plant in Beijing, but a second factory is set to come online in 2009. At that point, the firm expects to raise its annual output of Li-ion batteries to 18,000.

Michelin also is involved in another major electric vehicle partnership program with two French organizations, coachbuilder Heuliez and the telecommunications firm Orange. That cooperative effort revolves around the Active Wheel being used in a Heuliez-created front-drive EV called the Will. Built on an Opel Agila platform, this three-door mini hatch is slated to enter fleet service in 2010 and go on sale to the public in 2011 with a sticker price around $30,000.

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