As fuel economy regulations tighten all around the world, each part of the automobile is getting a second (and third and fourth ...) look to see if there is any way to squeeze out a few more yards per gallon. At the SAE World Congress in Detroit this week, Lacks Enterprises was showing off its contribution to the get-every-efficiency debate: Evolve Hybrid Wheels.
James Ardern, Lacks Wheel Trim Systems director of business development, told AutoblogGreen that wheels, which spin at 1,000 rpm, are pretty much four propellers that can have a big effect on aerodynamics, an effect that hasn't been measured nearly as much as it could be.
"We have learned that wheels are contributing significantly to the fuel economy of a vehicle," he said. The things right next to the wheels, the tires get tested. Consumer Reports, for example, has shown that better, more efficient tires can raise a vehicles mpg rating by one or two ticks, and Lacks has test results that show that the wheels – at least the Evolve wheels – can do the same.
"We have learned that wheels are contributing significantly to the fuel economy of a vehicle."
The Evolve Hybrid Wheels are not to be only used on hybrids. The name comes from the hybrid composite wheel technology that is applied to a structural aluminum backbone that is both lightweight and strong. Then, the designers can add a variety of shapes to blend aerodynamic efficiency with good looks (eye of the beholder and all). Lacks had Roush conduct some independent tests, and discovered that a Ford Focus SE outfitted with the Evolve wheels got a 0.4 mile per gallon improvement in the average city fuel economy and a 1.1 mpg highway improvement, compared to the car's stock wheels.
The idea is to co-develop efficient wheels with the automakers, and Ardern said Lacks is currently in discussions with three different OEMs and, "We do have one Evolve wheel already launching on an OEM capacity towards the end of this year," but he would not name which company. First truck testing will be tested by June and a second in August/September, and the same type of test will be run. An expanded set of tests will be done on the Focus this summer as well. There are no plans to test the wheels on an alternative power vehicle, but Ardern did say the program "will keep expanding."
"Why hasn't this happened before? One, it hasn't been measured. Two, it is difficult to do it. It is not an exaggeration to say wheel development includes many towers of competency: wheel suppliers themselves from a manufacturing point of view, wheel engineering from a structural and safety point of view, not also weight teams and fuel economy and ride and handling teams are getting involved. But then you've still got design and now aero. The problem is, you put all of those people in the same room at the same time and you'll never optimize a wheel. The value of our product is you create the backbone and that cuts our all groups but the design and aero teams. Perhaps the key thing that's going to come out of all this is that the method is going to enable it to get out onto the road."