Ford's in-wheel electric motors could lead to sideways parking

Talk about a lateral move.

Ford is developing a new electric car technology that is not just efficient with fuel, but potentially space, as well.

Designed in partnership with auto industry supplier Schaeffler, the eWheelDrive Fiesta prototype is propelled by electric motors located entirely within the wheels of the car, eliminating the need for the drive wheels to be connected to a common drivetrain.

The main advantage of the layout is packaging. While the test vehicle has a large battery installed under the hood of the converted Fiesta, an eWheelDrive vehicle built from the ground-up could use a flat battery pack located in the floor of the car, as in the Tesla Model S, creating more room for passengers within a given footprint.

The motors can also be easily employed in a variety of configurations. The demonstration vehicle, for instance, is rear-wheel-drive even though the production Fiesta it’s based on is front-wheel-drive. Creating an all-wheel-drive car is as relatively simple as adding two more motor-equipped wheels.

Other companies, including Michigan’s Protean Electric, are working on similar systems, but Ford is proposing an even more radical application of the technology to create the ultimate urban vehicle – sideways parking.

Since the drive wheels don’t need to be linked to a centralized motor, and fly-by-wire steering systems are already a reality, the suspension can be designed so that all four wheels can be rotated nearly 90 degrees, allowing the car to be slipped into the tightest parallel parking spaces perpendicularly. The prototype can’t do this, but designs incorporating such a feature are already on the digital drawing board.

Unfortunately for city dwellers, eWheelDrive is still very early in its development phase and there are currently no plans to put it into production. For now, you’ll have to settle for the existing self-parking option available on several Ford models.

Two more prototypes are expected to be built by 2015, this time with a focus on dynamics and the fun-to-drive factor, although we can think of few things that sound like more fun than snagging a parking spot broadside.

Read: Is Ford building an inflatable car?