Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development and planning, shows the rear-wheel hub electric motors mounted on a Chevy S-10.

General Motors Corp. hopes wheel-hub motors will make advanced-technology vehicles more palatable to consumers. The idea: Put one in each rear wheel on a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder vehicle. The result would be a reported 60% increase in torque at launch. "This lets a four-cylinder engine perform like a six-cylinder engine," says Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and planning. Also, the wheel motors are a good fit with all-wheel drive, said to give better traction and antiskid control, as well as improved steering.

The wheel-hub motors, weighing 33 lb and generating about 25 kW, are from Italian manufacturer Lucchi R. Elettromeccanica Srl. and were developed by GM's Advanced Technology Center in Torrance, Calif. They are currently being tested on an electric Chevy S-10 pickup built by Quantum Technologies, Irvine, Calif. Quantum also modified the vehicle's coolant, power, and electrical systems, and developed a special electronic controller and related software.