Automakers have recently announced detailed plans to electrify large portions of their fleet, but electric vehicles are nothing new. And neither are the innovators driving clean-power technology. Marcus Hays is among these EV veterans. He first became interested in alternative energy while pursuing his degree in Transportation Design at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Marcus cut his teeth on EV technology while working on a design project dubbed the “21st Century Taxicab,” an alternative-energy public transit vehicle. Marcus’ work caught the attention of a group launching an advanced transportation hatchery called CALSTART“I was the sixth company to join the hatchery in 1994. By 1998, there were 200 companies in the incubator. The technologies developed inside the hatchery contributed to pieces of different projects, like the Tesla Roadster. I met Lee Iacocca there, and he and I collaborated phenomenally. I also worked with Paul McCready, whose brainchild was the first mass-produced electric car.” Marcus is currently the Co-CEO of ORBIS, a California-based company hell-bent on reinventing wheels car wheels.

Marcus Hays, co-CEO of ORBIS, from his LinkedIn profile. [Marcus Hays]
“The problems that I saw in working on these various EV projects stemmed from the fact that the powertrain was rooted in internal combustion. What car companies were doingand are still doingis removing the gas tank and replacing it with a battery pack. They essentially use the same legacy architecture for electric that they did for internal combustion. That means that the only improvement possible in any of these systems becomes completely dependent on battery chemistries that are currently insufficient. Right? We’re working in this backward environment, spending trillions of dollars on manifesting this change, yet we’re still locked into internal combustion architecture. And it’s very frustrating. So that frustration led me to ORBIS,” he continued.

The ORBIS ring-wheel, an ultralight hub motor and regenerative braking system that’s a bolt-on game changer for vehicles: super light, super powerful. [ORBIS]
ORBIS is best known for its patented Ring-Wheel, a lightweight in-wheel motor system that weighs the same as a passive wheel, eliminating the need for additional components like transmissions, axles, and differentials. This increases the range of electric vehicles by 20%. “The notion of an in-wheel motor has existed since Porsche facilitated a hybrid electric in-wheel motor carriage in 1886. The idea of the in-wheel has been around ever since but was largely discarded. The resistance to in-wheel motors was because of the unsprung weight.  The in-wheel motor dating back to Porsche was substantially heavier than conventional wheels. ORBIS has invented the first in-wheel motor system that does not have a weight penalty. We can take what we like to call a ‘passive wheel’ off and replace it with a motorized wheel, and there’s no difference in suspension response, braking response, or driving response,” Marcus explained.

A look inside the epicyclic gearing of the ORBIS hub motor. The lightweight aluminum forgings are on par with carbon fiber, but less expensive and presumably a better lifespan. [ORBIS]
Through developing their in-wheel products, Marcus and his team realized that the electric motor should be placed as close as possible to where the work is being done. “In our case, an electric motor needs to be at the wheel, not upstream behind a bunch of efficiency-robbing parts. So that’s what we do and we have a proven, lightweight, high-power, high-performance wheel,” he said. “Besides our in-wheel motor, ORBIS develops small, interchangeable, and hot-swappable batteries. What we find, even in a commercial fleet, is that our customers have these range expectations and we show them what their needs actually are. It’s usually 70% less than what they initially thought.” 

Kate Ingber at Bonneville riding the PiCycle, a unique electric bicycle design that set an AMA record at 104kph. [Marcus Hays]
Marcus also has extensive experience designing and building e-Motorcycles. He built the first electric motorcycle to set two land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2006 and 2007. The technology Marcus and his team developed at Bonneville is what they’re using variations of now in automobile wheels to boost EV range. “The speed wasn’t what we’d hoped, but Bonneville is nothing if not hard on equipment and our prototype lithium chemistry repeatedly failed in the harsh conditions. After four days of misery, we set the record using lead acid batteries strung together in a massive overweight package purchased from a local auto parts store. We had a lot of different experimental batteries, but more importantly, we had an experimental drivetrain. As we do now, we used a small, lightweight motor to drive a wheel instead of a heavy, large motor with high inertia. That efficient, lightweight technology is what we brought with us out of Bonneville.”

Other projects: a McLaren chassis with nitrous-EV power and ORBIS wheels. From Marcus Hayes’ Instagram. [Marcus Hays]
Marcus is also the designer of the Picycle e-Bike. The bike is part of the Museum of Science and Industry’s permanent collection. “As a kid growing up in Chicago, I basically lived at the Museum of Science and Industry. I certainly spent as much time there as my parents would let me. And so, to have a bike in the permanent collection is phenomenal.” Marcus and ORBIS’ vision stems from car and motorcycle cultureauthentic culture.  “Going electric shouldn’t be at the cost of the internal combustion experience. As a kid at racetracks, Castrol motor oil was one of my favorite smells. ORBIS doesn’t have Castrol, but we do have extraordinary torque, speed, power, and reliability. As much as I love internal combustion, I love electric more for what it can do in terms of the experience. So, if we take a classic Mini Cooper or a Fiat or a Lancia or whatever it is, whether it’s a hybrid, or whether we do a full conversion, it is a thrilling, rewarding experience. And nobody has to worry about  losing internal combustion. We’re gaining a sublime form of power and mobility by going electric.”

The PiCycle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. [Marcus Hays]


Stephanie Weaver is the EV Editor at The Vintagent, and a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. When she’s not locked to her laptop, she can be found riding horses and motorcycles.