A Look Into the Future with Alex Gruzen

WiTricity CEO, Alex Gruzen, was recently interviewed by Jeff Osborne, as part of Cowen’s 14th Annual Global Transportation & Sustainability Mobility Conference. Click here to watch the video or read the following partial transcript of his insightful interview.

Alex: I’ve participated in Cowen conferences over the years, and it’s been an opportunity to say what we’re going to do, do it, and now talk about what we did. It’s a very exciting time with the first vehicles coming to market.

Most recently, a lot of attention has been focused on the Hyundai Genesis SUV electric vehicle with wireless charging and the taxi trials in Nottingham, UK where we’re transitioning from developing core technology to finally deploying around the industry standards that we’ve spent a decade getting ratified by SAE, China’s global standards, and others. All wireless charging – no matter who provides it – is built on our technology.

What’s also exciting are the torture tests that we’ve been putting our product through in China – things like driving a car over the charging pad 10,000 times, putting it through heat chamber tests, immersion tests, and everything else that it takes to build a product that qualifies for the automotive space.

Jeff: What’s the difference between induction charging and magnetic resonance charging?
Alex: Classic induction is when two coils are perfectly aligned, next to each other; you can induce current from one coil to the other. But unfortunately, this doesn’t apply well to vehicles since they vary in height, and you don’t always have perfect parking alignment. Magnetic resonance allows for positional flexibility while still moving substantial amounts of power.

With WiTricity technology selected as the basis for global standards, our interoperable standards allow any automaker to build EVs with wireless charging, and a charging infrastructure can be built to support it. We’re also extending beyond the basic technology to include parking guidance, foreign object detection, and communications. We’re excited that what we’re building is compatible with industry standards for connection to the cloud, connectivity for devices, development of apps for the end user, a management console, and everything else you’d see in a typical plug-in charger. In a nutshell, we’re taking this interesting and compelling technology and turning it into a real product!

Jeff: Can you talk about the convenience of wireless charging – both for consumers and commercial drivers?
Alex: For drivers of passenger vehicles, we’re bringing convenience. We’re making the EV experience better than you can achieve with internal combustion engine vehicles. Park and walk away. You’ll never have to think about charging or range again. As those vehicles become autonomous, like the autonomous valet from Hyundai or full autonomy, wireless charging becomes an essential feature. From a grocery delivery robot vehicle to a full-on taxi, they’ll need to be able to pull over and charge as needed – with no human interaction.

In commercial vehicles, it’s about cost savings. Opportunity charging is a significant way to reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) in a commercial fleet. In our new study with a major global logistics company, we reduced annual operating costs by 50% by introducing wireless charging into their process. The fleet of delivery vans did not go off to a charging station between shifts. This eliminated their need to charge in that limited amount of time at a very high rate and consume megawatts of power for the facility. Rather, they could double their available charging time by charging at loading docks, which are not practical locations to deploy corded charging. This scenario is perfectly suited for wireless charging.

The concept of opportunity charging dropped total power requirements by half, reduced utility company demand charges, reduced grid infrastructure upgrades, and took annual operating costs down by half. Please note that we haven’t implemented this yet; it’s a study we did with the logistics company, but everyone is excited about the commercial applications.

Jeff: You’ve mentioned the commercialization of Hyundai and a wireless taxi trial in England. Can you tell us more?
: The Hyundai Genesis G60 is launching in South Korea. Similar launches are happening in China as well as Germany, the US, and Japan. I’ll let each carmaker tell their story when they’re ready. As for the UK trial, the hardware solution was provided by Lumen Freedom, one of our licensees. As with the UK, the work being done in Korea and China highlights our ability to develop the technology and standards, license the tier one providers to the automotive industry, and support them going into production.

The next phase of our business will focus on pursuing the charging infrastructure directly ourselves. When you see the taxi trial, it’s a government-supported pilot. I’m encouraged by the U.S. government’s decisions to invest in charging and the charging infrastructure. In the next couple years, we’ll have plenty of opportunity to drive infrastructure solutions with charging network providers as a channel partner for us, as well as energy companies. Ultimately, commercial customers will be looking for this to be deployed as “charging as a service” and we intend to be the hardware provider for that.

Jeff: You’ve demonstrated your product with a variety of brands, mostly luxury vehicles. As wireless charging launches, do we assume it’s an option, not a standard? Is there a magic price point that will allow it to take off?
In a typical wireless system, about 30% of the cost is on the vehicle, 70% is on the charger. OEMs want our charging solution on the vehicle side to initially cost $500-700, with us focused on driving the cost down from there. From an end-customer’s point of view, we’re driving our costs to being less than a $1,000 to go wireless. What we’re hearing from the OEMs is that most of the buyers in these early years are ticking nearly all the boxes on options. As a result, we’re looking for wireless charging to be packaged as part of a convenience package. We’re clearly at the early stages, starting with more premium vehicles, but the price is being quickly driven down. In fact, our Japanese OEM customers are focused on driving to mainstream platforms as quickly as possible.

Jeff: You mentioned no loss of efficiency with wireless charging. Most plug-in chargers are in the high 80s to low 90s efficiency. How did you develop your solution with no losses? How did you avoid it?
Magnetic resonance end-to-end solutions from WiTricity are 90-93% efficient. From the grid to your house wiring to the battery in your car. It’s the same as plug in. How did we do it? The coil part is 98-99% efficient. The rest of the power electronics are very similar. And we don’t need an isolation transformer. In addition, we don’t need power electronics to make sure the car doesn’t impact your house wire and house wire doesn’t impact your car like a plug-in does. We don’t need it because we have a natural air gap. We’re the same efficiency as plug-in.

Jeff: You mentioned that wireless charging may come with a $1000 premium. How much of the cost reduction potential is in our hands vs. that of your licensees? Do you work with each licensee on a cost-reduction roadmap, or do they buy a license and then they’re on their own to develop as they’d like?
: We deliver reference designs to our licensees who continually drive the cost down and consolidate the architecture. We’re constantly revising. In fact, we have a new vehicle design that takes 30-40% of the electrical cost out. We’ll get well below that $1000 premium within the next few years.

I came out of the PC industry where you get an architecture set, and then you begin combining components. You start modularizing and developing dedicated basics, which allow you to bring volume up and rip costs down. People need to recognize that, in this wireless charging industry, we’re just at the very beginning of that. Now that the architecture is set, we have the opportunity to rip costs out.

Jeff: In 2025, most people think that there will be 12-15% EV penetration and by 2030, it will be over 30%. What’s your crystal ball for EV penetration?
I think by the end of the decade, we’ll be at 50% wireless charging penetration on all EVs that are sold. Like anything, we’ll start with premium vehicles and earn our way down to the rest of the product line through the engineering, design, and development that we’re doing. It’s important to note that we’re not just relying on the Tier 1’s, but rather, we’re developing a charging infrastructure, ourselves, that we’ll be selling and deploying into the market. As a result, there’s an opportunity to consolidate the infrastructure across multiple brands and bring to market – through direct channels to the consumer – our products, which will allow us to reach new price points.

Jeff: If I had you back a year from now, what are the key milestones that we should be monitoring?
You’ll see multiple automakers in the market offering wireless charging, a lot of activity in China (which is the largest car market – and EV market in the world), and you’ll see the first deployments of heavy-duty trucks for commercial deployment of wireless charging.

Jeff: Thank you, Alex.