Ford has filed a patent application for an all-wheel-drive system that uses three clutches to enable more precise control of how much power goes to each wheel.
According to a filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the system would use one clutch to couple or decouple an axle from the driveshaft, and the other two clutches to control power flow to individual half shafts on the second axle.
A controller would decide when to open and close these clutches, splitting power not only between the front and rear axles—as on many current all-wheel-drive systems—but between the left and right wheels on one axle.
Ford triple-clutch all-wheel drive system patent image
In the filing, Ford noted that one goal of all-wheel drive is to "improve vehicle maneuverability," so it's possible this setup would be used as an enhanced form of torque vectoring. This has become a popular tool to improve handling by intentionally sending more power to one wheel to help force the car to turn in when cornering.
Torque vectoring can be achieved with a differential, as in Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, but many automakers use less-complex brake-based systems that apply braking pressure to individual wheels to shift power around. Ford is no stranger to complex all-wheel-drive systems, having endowed the most recent Ford Focus RS with a drift mode—an idea it may be bringing back.
Ford may not use its proposed system in a production car, as patent filings are no guarantee of commercialization plans. The Blue Oval has been filing patent applications for a wide variety of ideas lately, from remote engine revving to trailer sideswipe avoidance technology. Some of these ideas may make it to production eventually, but Ford may also just be trying to protect potentially valuable intellectual property.