Wireless charging would address a major drawback of plug-in electric cars – their limited driving range. Tesla Motors expects its upcoming Model 3 to go more than 200 miles on a single charge and the Chevy Bolt, which is already on the market, has an advertised range of 238 miles. But electric vehicle batteries generally take several hours to fully recharge. A charge-as-you-drive system would overcome these limitations.
“In theory, one could drive for an unlimited amount of time without having to stop to recharge,” Fan explained. “The hope is that you’ll be able to charge your electric car while you’re driving down the highway. A coil in the bottom of the vehicle could receive electricity from a series of coils connected to an electric current embedded in the road.”
Some transportation experts envision an automated highway system where driverless electric vehicles are wirelessly charged by solar power or other renewable energy sources. The goal would be to reduce accidents and dramatically improve the flow of traffic while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Wireless technology could also assist GPS navigation of driverless cars. GPS is accurate up to about 35 feet. For safety, autonomous cars need to be in the center of the lane where the transmitter coils would be embedded, providing very precise positioning for GPS satellites.
In particular, friction is growing between workers who build combustion vehicles — still the mainstay of most carmakers’ profits — and managers seeking to position their companies for a battery-powered future.
The latest sign of the tough road ahead came on Thursday. To protest conditions offered by Mercedes parent Daimler as it negotiates adding new battery-making facilities at its Untertuerkheim plant in Stuttgart, Germany, the company said staff will stop working overtime next month. That will will slow engine output, forcing it to cancel shifts for assembling the E-Class sedan, Daimler said.
Mercedes, which is investing 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) as it prepares to roll out 10 electric models, expects as much 25 percent of its sales to come from the new technology by 2025, stoking concerns about job security particularly at engine plants.
“The changes that’ll happen over the next eight to fifteen years will directly hit plants like Untertuerkheim,” said Wolfgang Nieke, worker representative at the site, which employs 19,000 people. “If we don’t lay the groundwork for this shift now, the harder it’ll be down the line.”