For an electric car to work, it needs to have its battery replenished with fresh electrons once in a while. For years, that has meant taking a cord from the nearest EV charger and plugging it into a receptacle built into the vehicle. For people used to driving vehicles with infernal combustion engines, it’s perfectly logical. It involves nothing more than substituting an electrical cord for a gasoline hose — same concept, just a different fuel.
Lots of companies have toyed with the idea of charging an electric car wirelessly. In theory, it’s a magical solution. No cords to unroll and roll back up, no time lost plugging in and unplugging. Just drive into your garage, park in the designated place, and go on with your day. No muss, no fuss. It’s no more complicated than placing your cell phone in a wireless charging dock.
That’s the theory. In reality, wireless charging technology has faced a lot of real world issues. First, there is the problem of positioning. That wireless charging dock only works if you place the phone properly. Putting it a foot away results in no charging. Second is the issue of low charging power. Early wireless chargers were like plugging your car into a standard 110 volt wall outlet — popularly known as Level 1 charging. It works but it is s.l.o.w. Third, there was the problem of small animals getting caught between the charging plate on the ground and the charging receptacle on an electric car.
As with most things, the technology improves over time. Wireless charging systems today are capable of up to 500 kW of power and don’t need to be quite so precisely aligned in order to work properly (although optimum alignment does boost performance). Volkswagen is reportedly working on wireless systems with up to 300 kW of power at its Knoxville, Tennessee technology hub.
The leading US company dedicated to wireless charging has been WiTricity, which acquired the rights to the Halo wireless charging technology pioneered by QualComm. In 2022, WiTricity licensed its technology to Wiferion. Then last summer, Tesla purchased all the assets of Wiferion.
At that time, executive editor Zachary Shahan wondered aloud what Tesla’s purpose was in acquiring Wiferion. “The most obvious assumption is that Tesla is preparing to offer wireless EV charging. However, the question would be whether this is for home EV wireless charging, fast wireless charging at Superchargers, wireless charging for Semi trucks, wireless charging for Tesla robots (Optimus), or some combination of those purposes.”
During a recent episode of Jay Leno’s Garage with Tesla VP of Engineering Lars Moravy, Franz Von Holzhausen, the company’s head of automotive design, casually mentioned that Tesla is working on a wireless charging pad for Tesla vehicles that would replace conventional wall chargers. He said such a device would allow charging a Tesla to be as simple and convenient as placing a smartphone on a wireless charging pad, according to The Street. “We’re working on inductive [wireless] charging, so don’t even need to plug something in at that point. Just pull up in your garage and drive over the pad and charge it.”
Of course, as Zachary pointed out, charging an electric car wirelessly isn’t just about home charging for Tesla owners. The technology could be used to keep electric robotaxis on the move 24 hours a day without the need to have a human (or an Optimus robot) plug them in and unplug them as needed. It could also be embedded in roadways to keep Tesla Semis charged up on long trips.
No matter what the use case, wireless charging would simplify the electric car driving experience and attract new converts to the EV revolution just as the electric starter motor revolutionized the driving experience for traditional automobiles a century ago. As to details about cost, availability, and technical specifications, there are none to report at this moment.
Volkswagen To Make Electric Car Models With More Buttons
In another piece of electric car news, Volkswagen says it is adding real buttons to the dashboard of all its future models, after a storm of customer complaints about how difficult it is to operate many controls such as the radio and climate system using complex menus on touchscreens.
Volkswagen brand boss Thomas Schäfer told Autocar earlier this year that removing the buttons from Volkswagen electric cars “did a lot of damage to the brand.” He said, “Once you have it, don’t touch it again. Don’t confuse our customers every time a new model comes out and something is completely different. Optimize it. Bring into the future. But don’t change buttons from here to there, to there and here.”
The touchscreen heavy approach used for the Mk8 Golf and ID 3 has proven unpopular with customers, prompting a complete turn around in the way the company thinks about interior design. The new strategy is being baked into the upcoming ID.2all concept car and will bring back physical buttons and controls. Volkswagen interior designer Darius Watola told Autocar this week the ID.2all concept “showed a new approach for all models” and was in response to “recent feedback from customers”.
The new dashboard has a row of backlit buttons for the climate control system and a rotary controller on the central tunnel to control the touchscreen above it. The whole systems resembles BMW’s iDrive approach. There is also a screen for driving information, which Watola said is crucial for safety.
In the ID.2all concept, the screens can be selected in different themes, including retro graphics from the original Golf, and this feature is expected to make production. Older drivers who remember the original car may really appreciate that feature. The ID.2all (that name may be changed for the production model) will be front wheel drive in order to maximize cargo space in a car that is smaller than an ID.3.
Touchscreens in cars pretty much started with the Tesla Model S that went into production in 2011. Since then the automotive industry has doubled down on the idea. In the 60s, the marketing ploy was bigger engines. Today, it is presumed that a larger touchscreen is just inherently more appealing to customers. But lots of drivers find drilling down through multiple menus to control the interior temperature, find a radio station, or turn on the wipers is frustrating.
Plenty of CleanTechnica readers have posted comments complaining about touchscreens and begging for a return to buttons that can actually be found in the dark without taking eyes off the road ahead. Part of the problem for Volkswagen has been that its software has always underperformed ever since the first ID.3 rolled off the assembly line in Zwickau. Nevertheless, fans of actual buttons, knobs, and stalks will be delighted to hear that Volkswagen is pushing back against the touchscreen craze.