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Wireless Charging Electric Vehicles – Later is Better?

by Kevin Mak | Sep 17, 2020

WiTricity, the developer of the electric vehicle wireless charging reference design, had recently announced the supply to the McLaren Speedtail “plug-in” hybrid hypercar through its licensee, Lumen Freedom. 

While Strategy Analytics maintains its positive user experience with wireless charging electric vehicles, it has been a story more of hope than expectation.

Way back in August 2015, I had written a viewpoint report title, 2017: The "Important Year" For Wireless Charging In Electric Vehicles, in which I said a number of wireless charging systems would start entering the market in that year, including the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid because of the Japanese OEM’s investment in WiTricity.  However, that was not to be.

The problem was that there were two main protagonists in developing wireless charging for EVs – Qualcomm HALO, with technology developed by the University of Auckland, and WiTricity, with technology developed by MIT.  The fear was that OEMs would be confused as to which technology would be the winner and ending up adopting the technology that would be the loser. 

  • In February 2019, this fear was dispelled when WiTricity acquired HALO from Qualcomm and so unify the technologies together under one license.  This was reported by Strategy Analytics in WiTricity Acquires HALO From Qualcomm: Becomes One Stop Shop For Electric Vehicle Wireless Charging.
  • Furthermore, the standards relating to EV wireless charging became finalised across the major market regions, whether it is J-2954 in the US or a reciprocating GB/T 38775 in China, with further standards, such as J-2847-6 coming for communication.
  • With interoperability assured under a unified technology, license and set of standards, this would enable OEMs to concentrate on working with Tier 1 suppliers to source the Vehicle Assembly, while a host of  charger suppliers can concentrate on producing the standards compliant Ground Assembly, competing against each other and bring the cost of wireless charging to a more affordable level to consumers (instead of concentrating the supply chain to the OEM) and could even bring about a more cost effective public wireless charging infrastructure in the future.
  • The delay towards the unifying technologies and standards was also, perhaps, due to the trend towards the higher 11 kW (WPT 3) level of AC charging for battery electric vehicles and in the final reference design supporting this.
  • In comparison, the WiTricity-only 3.2 kW system that began on the 2018 BMW 530e plug-in hybrid was, presumably, only deployed in the few-thousands of units.

So while the result of unifying the two technologies may have led to the McLaren Speedtail deployment, as a standard feature on the 106 vehicles that McLaren will produce – a new, not-yet-named global OEM customer, starting in 2021, could bring demand back up to the high volumes we had prematurely predicted back in 2015.  In addition, multiple China based OEMs are engaged with Tier 1s for vehicles slated for production in 2022.

  • In 2015, Strategy Analytics gave a pessimistic forecast for 117,000 units, or 2 percent of new battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, in 2022. 
  • As a result of the WiTricity announcement, the next edition of the Strategy Analytics’ Automotive System Demand Forecast will show a reduction in the demand for electric vehicle wireless charging systems towards that same pessimistic level.  This is 1.5M units and $307M less than the optimistic demand levels predicted for 2019-2022.
  • However, the unified reference design and interoperability standards could open the door for faster deployment beyond this new customer.  Furthermore, license sales and the possible closing of a near term funding round will provide WiTricity the investment needed to develop new applications, such as wireless charging at higher power levels and “power snacking” by taxi fleets, for example, as was reported by Strategy Analytics in Wireless Charging Infrastructures Enabling "Power Snacking" For Electric Vehicles.

Kevin Mak is a Principal Analyst in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics, covering the Powertrain, Body, Chassis and Safety service.

Strategy Analytics also publishes the EV/HEV Technologies Supply & Fitment Database twice a year and the OEM Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Strategies report every year, including the 2019 edition, OEM Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Strategies: Investments, Alliances and Restructuring, Move to Mass Electrification Begins
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