Whatever your views on the subject, using inductive rather than conductive charging stations to refill an electric car’s battery pack is generally considered something of an inevitability for at least some parts of the electrified vehicle industry. Even if you think it’s not always practical in every situation due to power constraints and engineering challenges, inductive charging has found a practical use in the world of mass transit, with numerous pilot programs around the world successfully using inductive charging as a way to power clean, green test fleets of zero-emissions busses.
Now there’s a new test fleet of wirelessly-charging electric vehicles being tested as part of a pilot project being ran by Toyota. What’s more, the system is being tested on the smallest capacity plug-in vehicle on the market today: the 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.
The pilot project, which has just begun in the Aichi Prefecture in Japan, will run a test fleet of Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrids fitted with inductive charging receivers located on the rear underside of the vehicle. Like other inductive charging test programs we’ve seen around the world, parking over a specially-designated parking space fitted with an inductive charging station will cause the car to automatically start charging the moment you turn it off.
With just 4.4 kilowatt-hours of on-board battery storage, the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid might not be the first vehicle you think of as being worthy of the extra hardware to enable wireless charging. But after thinking about it for a while, we think it’s exactly the right vehicle.
Firstly, Toyota’s prototype vehicles make use of the autonomous parking feature that has been part of the Toyota Prius lineup for more than seven years. Instead of simply identifying and reversing into a parking space however, the modified software ensures that the car is parked precisely over the inductive charging station, allowing for optimal efficiency and power transfer. From the end-user’s perspective however, the additional functionality of inductive charging alignment operates seamlessly with Toyota’s already long-proven technology.
Second, with such a small battery pack and an EV-only range of under 15 miles per charge, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid really does benefit from charging everywhere it goes to minimize gasoline use and maximize fuel efficiency. With a conventional corded arrangement, this means allowing for plugging and unplugging at every stop.
For those who live and work in a major city however, this technology could allow owners of limited-EV range vehicles like the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid the ability to drive in all-electric mode for the majority of the day, without having to plug and unplug their cars at each and every stop. Since these cars have the smallest battery packs and require the most time spent plugging and unplugging them in order to maximize EV range, we think they’re best suited to wireless inductive charging tech.
We should probably caution however that Toyota’s latest test program doesn’t necessarily indicate a future plan to further its electric only vehicle program beyond the RAV4 EV — which is currently sold in limited markets as a ‘compliance car’. With a vested interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology, it’s probable that Toyota’s inductive charging study won’t revolutionise its future vehicle lineup in the short term.
Would you like a car with wireless charging technology alongside a traditional plug and socket? Would you pay extra to have the feature on your next car?
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