In 2010, EVs Will Need More Than Just an Electric Motor

By this time next year — if all goes according to plan — Americans in select markets will be able to stroll into their nearest Chevy or Nissan dealers and drive off in a plug-in vehicle. Soon after, other automakers will start flooding the marketplace with their own plug-ins, including Toyota, which is finally preparing a plug-in version of its trendsetting Prius.

They’ll undoubtedly satisfy the motoring needs of many environmentally aware drivers, but as Josie Garthwaite wrote at Earth2Tech, their adoption could be hampered by several practical factors inherent to the first generation of mass-produced plug-ins. For the most part, those factors boil down to practical concerns like household finances and launch availability. Technologically speaking, however, there are several ways automakers can appease the tech-obsessed portion of our population (this writer included). Here are a few.

EV App Store

Ford is not only making waves for adding Wi-Fi to Sync, but also for how its approaching in-car IT. University of Michigan students have been toiling away at building apps for the Sync platform, which may one day form the basis of a Sync app store. At first, it sounds like a recipe for disaster; driving and distractions do not mix. The beauty of Ford’s approach is that Sync apps have to conform to the platform’s human interface standards, meaning poking at a touchscreen is out and voice commands are in.  Already, one handy concept called Follow Me seems like the perfect way of getting your little caravan to its destination safely and with a minimum of battery-depleting wrong turns. Hypermilers and the developer community, rejoice!

Wireless Battery Charging

The plug-in part of vehicle ownership, conceptually speaking, isn’t too far removed from pumping your own gas, albeit with “topping off” times that can stretch into several hours. But why not do away with the plug entirely?

Wireless charging isn’t the most efficient manner of powering your gadgets currently, but EV makers and charging infrastructure providers shouldn’t let that dissuade them from improving on the technology. Embedding contactless charging into parking spaces can radically simplify charging stations. For consumers, it will be the ultimate in park-it-and-forget-it convenience. So far, it’s worth watching Nissan and Plugless Power for clues on how quickly the wireless car charging catches on.

Give Me a Smart Key Fob

Sure, your EV will seamlessly integrate with your smart meter and become best friends with your iPhone. But for all this technology, let’s not forget to some basic, comparatively low-tech ways of making the EV experience a positive one. For instance, what if I forget my iPhone at home? If that happens, I’d like my key fob to display my battery’s charge without climbing into my car to read the dash. Nothing fancy, a couple of LEDs will do. Bonus points to the carmaker that also delivers range estimates to my fingertips, or as one commenter suggested at GM-Volt.com, a simple, built-in location function for finding my ride in crowded or poorly lit parking lots.

During the next few years, EV and plug-in choices will multiply and the newness of being propelled by an electric motor will wear off.  When that time comes, you can expect potential buyers to start paying closer attention to the technology packages and convenience features they want (and the automakers that offer them).  The most exciting part of the Car 2.0 revolution is that if both automakers and software developers play their cards right, a car buyer’s dream car could be just an app download away.

Relevant analyst in electric vehicles
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  1. Josie Garthwaite Monday, December 28, 2009

    I hope automakers address those practical concerns before betting too heavily on wireless charging. As I commented on Stacey’s post on this topic (http://pro.gigaom.com/2009/10/wireless-power-beyond-charging-mats-and-solar-panels/) losing the plug at this stage doesn’t seem worth the price of prolonging the charge time — especially if it adds cost at a time when automakers are racing to bring EVs within financial reach for a larger portion of consumers. But sure, long term, plug-free charging stations could be pretty cool.

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