Market Watch

Will In-Vehicle Wireless Charging be the Next Big Thing?

Companies aim to expand their support for mobile devices in cars

May 27, 2011

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Wireless inductive charging for mobile devices is a trend IHS has seen coming to the market for a number of years now. Rather than plugging the cell phone into the cigarette lighter, 12v charger, or USB port, new technologies are being developed that allow users to recharge the battery wirelessly.

While many companies have tried to offer solutions, systems for the most part were not interoperable. That, however, may all be changing now.

GM Invests in Powermat
In January, GM and Powermat announced a $5 million investment from GM Ventures subsidiary, which could put Powermat inductive charging in many future Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac products as soon as mid­2012.

The Powermat technology allows electronic devices—such as smart phones, MP3 players and gaming devices—to be charged without having to plug in the devices; Powermat already sells wireless chargers for personal use. In most instances when charging a smart phone, a case must be attached with a small receiver to the device. The receiver then allows the device to communicate with a power mat, and through induction charges the battery without the use of cords.

While the GM announcement pegged the Chevrolet Volt as one of the first GM vehicles to offer this technology higher-volume automobiles will be the ones that could deliver a true revolution in charging methods for the car.

VW and Audi Get into the Action
Audi was already playing around with the idea of wireless charging at the 2010 SEMA show, demonstrating a device along with Qualcomm and Peiker that allowed for the wireless charging of smart phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other devices. The wireless charging solution would be sold as an accessory by Audi.

Meanwhile, at Volkswagen’s new Electronics Research Laboratory in Silicon Valley, research is still being conducted on a center console that can wirelessly charge smart phones, similar to the above-mentioned power mats now on the market for home use. The project, in development with Qualcomm, reportedly could use magnetic near-field resonance to power rear-seat entertainment or ambient lighting systems as well. Such an activity solidifies the concepts that Audi had demonstrated only six months ago into something slightly closer to production.

Chinese OEMs and their Role
An interesting trend noted at the recent Shanghai Auto Show was that Chinese original equipment manufacturers (OEM) were gearing up for the wireless charging of mobile devices in the car. Some Chinese OEMs are attempting to lead the new race in deploying mobile wireless charging, including moving the mobile wireless charger into the car.

Geely had a flagship sedan, the Emgrand EC8, with a mobile wireless charging system on the bottom of its center stack. According to Geely, wireless charging is designed for mass production, but the moment of launch has not been decided yet.  

Chang’an also showcased a future car prototype with several advanced driver assist system (ADAS) features as well as a wireless charging system for mobile devices in the center armrest. According to the Chang’an staff, the wireless charging standard known as Qi, developed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), has been promoted in Beijing as an industrial standard since August 2010. Many Chinese enterprises have since introduced their own Qi Wireless Power Standard products, and Chinese OEMs seem keen on bringing the technology to market.

Will OEMs Commit?
The biggest catalyst for wireless charging in the car is the direction the consumer electronics (CE) community might take regarding the technology. The end goal would be to integrate inductive charging chips into the smart phone or battery itself to ensure compatibility, without an extra cost for a sleeve or case.

Chinese OEMs actually may get this technology into cars faster than their foreign competitors by working with the CE industry and the common Qi standard, IHS believes. Nonetheless, the OEMs could find themselves without a return on investment should their efforts in this direction not turn out as hoped.

With mobile device connectivity and easy operability within the vehicle an increasingly hot topic for OEMs, the wireless charging of such devices by setting them down on a mat within reach sounds like a nice feature to be had for drivers. But whether such a proposition turns out to be lucrative for OEMs remains to be seen.

Learn More > IHS iSuppli Automotive Research Portal—Infotainment—Asia Pacic

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