Evatran and VIE look to bring wireless charging to China’s passenger EVs
I recently had a conversation with Rebecca Hough, CEO of Evatran, the maker of the Plugless Power wireless charging system for electric vehicles. Seems her company is making inroads in China, sort of. I still await the Chinese government’s commitment to building a wireless EV charging infrastructure, however.
About a year ago, I also spoke with Hough (and blogged about it). At that time, Evatran had just announced an investment from Zhejiang VIE Science and Technology Co, a Chinese supplier.
The relationship between VIE and Evatran continues to grow; the next tranche of investment from VIE just occurred. I thought it was a good time to check back with Hough about the JV and her overall take on China’s electric vehicle market.
The most recent investment of $2.3 million occurred in July, and it was the final tranche of the $5.5 million initial investment by VIE in the U.S. Evatran entity. The two earlier tranches, or $1.6 million each, occurred in mid- and late-2015.
Additionally, Evatran and VIE will invest $5 million in the China-based, Hong Kong-registered joint venture. Evatran’s portion will consist of a limited amount of capital plus assignment of intellectual property, as well as technical and engineering support, Hough tells me. Evatran will have a 25 percent ownership stake in the JV.
The target customers for the wireless charging system – known as Plugless Power, in the U.S. – are Chinese automakers, many of whom are already VIE customers, says Hough, Hough indicated the target product was passenger cars, and based on VIE’s website, it seems to supply all the major domestic OEs as well as SGMW.
Rather than sell Plugless Power as an aftermarket product, Evatran and VIE hope to become suppliers to the auto makers themselves. That requires automakers to have plans to produce electric vehicles with wireless charging technology installed. So I guess part of the plan it to use the VIE connection to convince automakers to begin producing electric vehicles that can be charged wirelessly.
As with most things China, there is an issue. China doesn’t yet have a national wireless charging standard. SAE in the U.S. is currently evaluating the J2954 wireless charging standard for light duty plug in/electric vehicles. It is expected to be standardized “after the 2016 timeframe.” But China doesn’t want to use that standard. As Hough pointed out, “China often has its own standard, but close.” Meaning rather than just adopt the same standard as the U.S., China wants its own. Sigh.
Hough figures the lack of a standard in China isn’t a problem. She says that China will likely be similar to the U.S. in that after automakers begin to produce electric vehicles that use wireless charging, a standard will follow.
“In China, we have an opportunity to use what we learned in the U.S.,” says Hough. “We go to the OEMS, says ‘we can put this in the field without having a standard, then develop a standard.”
It could be three to five years before a standard is developed and rolled out in China, she says.
Is the China market ready for wireless charging? Yes, says Hough. And I do hear from my industry contacts there is a lot of interest in wireless aka inductive charging. But as I said at the top, I await a sign from Beijing.
To be sure, sales of new energy vehicles – which includes PHEVs, BEVs, and HFCVs though we can disregard HFCVs for now – is growing. In the first six months of 2016, some 126,000 battery electric vehicles were sold in China, and some 44,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. BEV sales rose 126 percent on-year; PHEV sales rose 62 percent, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
It is uncertain if Chinese consumers actually feel any enthusiasm for electric vehicles of any kind, of course. They do like the hefty government subsidy that comes with the purchase, however. One thing is clear – Beijing isn’t backing down on its plan to make China a big market for electrified vehicles.
That is why Evatran is working with VIE, says Hough. Evatran figures it can’t be a global player if it doesn’t have a presence in China, she says.
As it has developed relationships with manufacturers over the last year, “the real eye-opener is looking at the work done by the companies themselves (on EV development). You get pretty bullish about what the company can do and the market not just in China but globally.”
For the next six months Evatran will work with VIE on getting the JV up and running. The VIE can handle manufacturing the actual charging pad. Evatran’s expertise will be vital to adapting its standard Plugless Power charging system to the Chinese vehicles.
The JV aims to start manufacturing by the end of 2017. It should have a customer lined up by then, says Hough. “We have a front runner,” she says.
The Evatran/VIE venture is focused on passenger vehicles. Meanwhile, other Chinese entities are going after the bus market. Chinese telecom equipment company ZTE last year said it was developing wireless charging for buses, and focused on public infrastructure. So it must smell government support. I haven’t seen or heard much about it lately, though.
Wireless charging is a great idea for China. Most people don’t have a drive way, much less garage. But the government hasn’t even made good on its plan to install a lot of regular charging posts yet. So I’m skeptical that it will rush to install wireless charging pads. Perhaps the automakers themselves will do this. Someone will have to.