The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity in in-wheel motor drives is driven by improved efficiency and energy recovery, enhanced power density, integration with vehicle dynamics systems, and growing importance of technologies such as motor controllers, smart electronics, and control algorithm. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in automotive: in-wheel motor drives. Buy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

300+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over one million patents, there are 300+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, integrated multi-motor drivetrains, electric power steering (EPS), and post-collision handling are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Variable compression engines, V2V distance monitoring, and turbocharger shaft bearings are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and plasma-jet ignition, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

In-wheel motor drives is a key innovation area in automotive

In-wheel motor drives refer to a type of motor that is integrated into a vehicle's wheels to provide propulsion. The motor's components are housed within the wheel itself, which eliminates the need for a traditional drivetrain, such as an axle and differential. This technology offers advantages in terms of space utilization, weight reduction, and simplified design.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of in-wheel motor drives.

Key players in in-wheel motor drives – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to in-wheel motor drives

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Hyundai Mobis 6 Unlock Company Profile
Bridgestone 1 Unlock Company Profile
Zhejiang Asia-Pacific Mechanical & Electronic 2 Unlock Company Profile
Daimler AG (USA) 1 Unlock Company Profile
NTT 15 Unlock Company Profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 6 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 14 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler 10 Unlock Company Profile
BYD 2 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 4 Unlock Company Profile
Nissan Motor 16 Unlock Company Profile
NTN 9 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 7 Unlock Company Profile
Komatsu 8 Unlock Company Profile
Microelectronica MASER 13 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 5 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 5 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 1 Unlock Company Profile
Stellantis 3 Unlock Company Profile
Applied Electric Vehicles 2 Unlock Company Profile
Zeppelin-Stiftung 2 Unlock Company Profile
REE Automotive 3 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Nissan Motor is one of the leading patent filers in in-wheel motor drives. The company focuses on increased power density to increase the power output of in-wheel motors, while maintaining or reducing their size and weight. This contributes to improved performance without sacrificing efficiency. Nissan’s advanced motor control algorithms enhance the precision and responsiveness of in-wheel motors, optimizing torque distribution for improved vehicle dynamics, stability, and traction control. Some other key patent filers in this space include NTT and Toyota Motor.

In terms of application diversity, Honda Motor leads the pack, while Ford Motor and NTT stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Microelectronica MASER held the top position, followed by Komatsu and  Nissan Motor.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the automotive industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Automotive

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.