McLaren triples up and Ford brings it home

In a look at some of the latest patent filings in the automotive industry we highlight McLaren’s patent application to a powertrain using three electric motors, and application by Ford for a car that can drive itself away if the owner fails to keep up with repayments!

McLaren – Patent Publication no. EP4112349

British supercar manufacturer McLaren are pursuing patent protection for a novel arrangement of three electric motors in the drivetrain.

McLaren's novel arrangement of three electric motors in the drivetrain


As shown above by the “M”, the drive unit consists of a differential (20) with an electric motor at the input and an electric motor at each output to the rear wheels (4a, 4b).  This is all housed in aluminium or magnesium (24) and the three motors work together to drive the vehicle.  The arrangement enables torque vectoring (allocating specific power to individual wheels to improve control) and regenerative braking (slowing down a wheel and recovering that energy for future use).  By braking or powering one of the two output motors, the vehicle can put its power down onto the road more effectively.

The application also states that this novel drivetrain could be used to power a hybrid vehicle.  The three-motor arrangement would be placed on the front axle, and the rear axle driven by a more traditional internal combustion engine.

The use of three motors in tandem like this comes with a number of challenges.  As any budding engineer might know from playing with LEGO TechnicTM, driving an output shaft of a differential in one direction will cause the other output shaft to spin in the opposite direction.  Not ideal.  This means a locking or “limited-slip” mechanism is required.

To overcome this, McLaren will have one motor on the axle applying a torque in the opposite direction to the other axle.  The difficulty then is synchronising the torque applied to both axles.  McLaren lock the differential when purely driving the vehicle forward.

As you can imagine, this is a reasonably complex system, but, if pulled-off, will allow for fantastic levels of torque vectoring control.

Ford – Patent Publication no. US 2023/0055958[i]

“This disclosure generally pertains to systems and methods to repossess a vehicle”


That is the opening line of the abstract and, in a nutshell, the application is directed to a system in which if a car owner fails to respond to messages informing them they are falling behind with their monthly repayments, then certain “persuasive” measures are taken.

A car by Ford that can drive itself away if the owner fails to keep up with repayments

Firstly, the car’s GPS could be deactivated.  If this elicits no response from the driver, then the music system and air conditioning can be shutdown in order to create what is carefully put as “a certain level of discomfort”.

If this doesn’t work, then the level of “discomfort” can be increased.

The system could begin by enabling the car to create an “incessant and unpleasant sound”, such as a chime or beep, every time the owner gets inside.

Still no luck in getting the owner to pay up?  Then a further escalation is suggested.  That is to limit access to the car on certain days or at certain times.


“Open the pod bay doors HAL.”


“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”


The idea being it would make it unusable at the weekends but allow the owner to continue to drive to and from work, thus in theory not harming their ability to pay for the car.  A GPS “geofence” is also suggested which would prevent the car from driving into certain areas.

Finally, if all of the above fails and the owner is still behind with their repayments, the car could be instructed to drive itself somewhere to be picked up by a waiting tow-truck, or even to a storage area for repossession.  If the car has done many miles and is in poor condition, then it could instead be instructed to drive itself straight to a scrapyard for recycling.

This may give you visions of HAL running amok in Space Odyssey, or an abused KITT having to be rebuilt from scratch in Knight Rider.  Perhaps though it is the bizarre, Black Mirror-like, natural culmination for autonomous vehicles.

Mistreated self-driving cars shuffling themselves off to the scrapheap to be terminated….

[i] One quick point to note – as often mistakenly reported in the press, these applications, filed in 2021, have not yet granted.  They have merely published, which is why they have come to the attention of the automotive public.  Patent applications (unless sensitive or specifically withdrawn) become publicly available and that is typically 18 months after they are filed.  There is no indication yet as to whether the applications will be granted and what scope they will grant with.

Category: News | Published: | Read more