With more than 30 years of collaborative electric car and plug-in vehicle ownership under our belts here at Transport Evolved, we’d like to think of ourselves as being pretty well versed in the act of plugging a car in to recharge it. From our earliest experiences involving standard household outlets to CHAdeMO DC quick charging and Tesla’s incredibly impressive Supercharger standard, driving a cleaner, greener car has always involved plugging a cord in somewhere at the end of a trip to recharge our car’s on-board battery pack for the next journey.
Although anyone who has owned or driven an electric car for any length of time will admit that the act of plugging in a car to charge it is a process that takes just a few seconds, many automakers are investing time and energy into developing wireless inductive charging systems designed to ensure people never have to plug their car in to charge.
The idea is simple: instead of using an electrically conductive, mechanical plug and socket to send power from a charging station into an electric car’s charging system, you use electromagnetism to do the same thing inductively. And while most inductive charging systems are still very much in the laboratory test phase right now, wireless inductive charging is something that automakers like Nissan, Volkswagen and Toyota say we’ll be seeing on commercial electric cars in the next decade or so. Such systems, we’re told, will eliminate the fear and worry that some customers have about forgetting to plug in, make electric cars more appealing to traditional gasoline car owners, and lead to a future where cars can be dynamically charged while driving along specially-designed portions of road.
So to see what wireless charging was really like to live with on an everyday basis — and to see if we, and many electric car owners around the world were simply missing the point when it came to wireless inductive charging — we reached out to the folks at Evatran, manufacturer of the Plugless Power wireless inductive charging system, and asked if we could test a wireless charging system for six months to see if we were right or wrong about life with a car that doesn’t plug in.
They agreed, and just over one month ago, we took ‘Micah’ one of our Staff Nissan LEAFs to be fitted with the Plugless Power inductive charging system. Today and for the next five months or so, we’re going to bring you regular updates detailing how the system is working in real life, from how it feels not to have to plug in to any difficulties or challenges that the system brings with it.
And at this point, we think it’s worth noting that we’re entering into this six-month project as complete skeptics of the system. Having driven electric cars for so many years, plugging in isn’t an issue to us. Moreover, while the Evatran Plugless Power system claims 90 percent efficiency when compared to a conductive (plug-in) charging system, we’re curious as to how much extra power our system will use compared to a traditional electromechanical charging arrangement.
Evatran currently sells wireless inductive 3.3 kilowatt charging systems for three different cars — the Nissan LEAF, original Chevrolet Volt and the Cadillac ELR — and is in the process of launching its fourth inductive charging system, a larger, more powerful 7.2 kilowatt system for the Tesla Model S. Each system consists of a wall-mounted control unit, a floor-mounted wireless power transmitter (which Evatran calls the parking pad) and a wireless inductive charging receiver that sits on the underside of the vehicle.
Prices range from $1260 for the Chevrolet Volt compatible unite to $1940 for the Cadillac ELR system, including installation. Prices for the Tesla Model S unit have yet to be announced, although Evatran is currently taking refundable £244 deposits from interested Model S owners.
While technically an aftermarket system, the Evatran Plugless Power system is designed to work with each vehicle’s existing control circuitry and on-board connective charger, and can be installed in a few hours at one of its trained U.S. installation partners (at the moment, while there are some ‘pilot projects’ outside of the U.S. using the Evatran Plugless Power system, the company is currently focused on expanding its U.S. market). With each vehicle having its own specific installation ‘kit,’ no extra holes have to be drilled in the vehicle, no permanent modifications have to be made, and the car can be returned back to factory specification at any point.
We should also point out here that since the wireless inductive charging system exists in tandem with the conductive charging socket on each car, the Evatran Plugless Power solution makes use of the car’s on-board charger. This means that any charge timers or pre-conditioning settings continue to work as they do when plugged in, assuming you’re parked over the inductive parking pad of course.
Which brings us nicely to the install process.
First up comes a series of phone calls designed to ensure that you’re getting the right system and have the correct power close by your parking space. Evatran can arrange an installation service for the wall unit and charging pad for those who want it permanently installed — or if it’s located outside — but those with an appropriately-wired garage can opt for the ‘self-install’ option, which comes in three boxes with the necessary instructions you’ll need to install the system yourself.
Meanwhile, the car receiver plate — and the electronics that go with it — must be fitted by one of Evatran’s official installation partners. The company fully warranties its equipment and says its warranty also covers any car faults caused by its system. This should give peace of mind to those worrying about what happens if their car goes wrong and their dealership gets upset about the aftermarket system.
In our case, installation required a short trip to the Hawthorne Auto Clinic on Portland’s east side. An independent, locally-owned garage, Hawthorne Auto clinic has made a name for itself in Portland, Oregon as being a garage that does everything it can to promote sustainable car ownership. With every mechanic trained on hybrid and electric car repair, the facility maintains a number of locally-owned electric vehicles. In fact, it currently serves as the official service center for the several hundred Think City electric cars that live in and around the greater PDX area. Why so many? That’s another story involving Portland General Electric — but it certainly proved Micah the Nissan LEAF was in good hands.
With one of Evatran’s engineers on hand to assist Hawthorne Auto Clinic’s staff (they had also installed a similar unit on a PGE fleet vehicle a year or more ago) we watched as Micah was raised up in the air and the installation process began.
While the Tesla Model S Plugless Power kit will place the wireless inductive receiver plate under the front of the car, the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR installations place the receiver kit under the rear of the vehicle, just behind the rear wheels in the space often occupied by a spare wheel or a fuel tank in an internal combustion engine car.
In the case of the LEAF, that meant the factory-fitted rear underbody diffuser — a plastic cover designed to improve aerodynamic performance and therefore fuel efficiency — had to be removed. Since we’ve only got a loaner system, Hawthorne Auto Clinic gave us the panel and associated fasteners so we can revert our staff LEAF back to factory specification when it gets removed in six months’ time.
With the diffuser removed, special brackets were bolted in using existing bolt holes on the underside of the LEAF and the plate itself was offered up. Meanwhile, two sets of wires — high voltage and low voltage — were fed from the rear of the car to the front, where the on-board charger in the 2013 Nissan LEAF resides. Fitted inside the space occupied by the LEAF’s battery pack, the installation looks clean and professional from underneath and the modified connections under the hood — including a new magnetic switch to detect if the charge port door is open or closed — were carefully added without damage to the car.
With the car installation completed, it was time for us to head back to Transport Evolved headquarters, where the rest of the Plugless Power system was waiting. Since we’re only temporarily using the system, we opted for a DIY install, which we’ll admit isn’t the most sophisticated or aesthetically pleasing of solutions.
The instructions provided by Evatran to install the system are straightforward and we had no problems installing the supplied wall-mounting bracket for the control box on the wall of our garage. meanwhile, the parking pad — and the shielding pad required for garage floor installations — were located on the floor underneath the LEAF. Pairing the unit with the car was fairly straightforward too: luckily, instructions are provided in the installation guide.
Which brings us to an important point, something we feel is certainly a weakness of the Evatran system at the current point in time. Right now, the charging system pairs a single charging pad to a single car. We understand that will change in the future, but for now it does mean that you can’t simply park over another identical wireless charging pad and expect your car to start charging.
In daily operation, the Plugless Power system guides you into position using a series of arrows on the wall-mounted control unit, but to get the right location for installation, Evatran recommends you park your car in a comfortable spot in the garage, then line up the charging pad underneath according to the instructions in its installation guide.
Once a location has been picked — and you’ve tested its suitability by driving in and out of the parking spot a few times to practice following the guidance of the wall unit — you anchor the parking pad to the ground using three metallic dowels. You’ll need a hammer drill to make the holes they sit in, but luckily Evatran provides the necessary drill bit — and a template for drilling the holes — with the installation kit.
With both wall unit and parking pad installed, we finished off our temporary installation using duct tape along the length of the garage floor to hold the cabling that leads from the wall unit to the parking pad in place. Naturally, a permanent installation could use a more aesthetically-pleasing solution but for test purposes, it should function just perfectly.
So far, use of the system has been trouble-free once correct installation had been completed. Once the system detects the car approaching the garage, it exits low-power mode and guides the driver in using its set of diamond-shaped lights on the front of the unit. Once correctly parked, simply turn off the car and the unit will either enter timer-delay mode (if you have a timer enabled in your car) or automatically begin charging.
But that, we suspect is for our next installment.
Evatran Plugless Power provided Transport Evolved with a loaner unit free of charge to enable us to bring you this product review.
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