BMW leads the charge

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - NEWS -

BMW aims to be the first car maker to play un­plugged in the elec­tric ve­hi­cle arena. From mid-2018, the Ger­man brand will have a wire­less charg­ing op­tion for its new 530e plug-in hy­brid, elim­i­nat­ing the need to con­nect car and charge point with a cum­ber­some ca­ble.

Other brands are de­vel­op­ing wire­less recharg­ing tech­nol­ogy but none of them have so far an­nounced a firm launch date. BMW plans to in­tro­duce wire­less charg­ing first in Europe and the US but it will come to Aus­tralia.

“We have strongly in­di­cated our in­ter­est in the tech­nol­ogy and aim to of­fer it to the Aus­tralian mar­ket as soon as is prac­ti­ca­ble,” says BMW Group Aus­tralia chief Marc Werner.

“The BMW i and iPer­for­mance brands are vi­tal (to) en­sur­ing we sit at the fore­front of eMo­bil­ity. Wire­less charg­ing is the next sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment.”

BMW pre­sented a pro­to­type wire­less charger at the launch in Ger­many of the 530e.

A ca­ble con­nects the power sup­ply to a mat about 90cm long, 80cm wide and 6cm thick on the floor of a garage or a parking space. A smaller pad, 30cm square and only 2cm deep, is fixed un­der the car be­tween the front wheels.

It works on the same in­duc­tive charg­ing prin­ci­ple used in recharge­able tooth­brushes and, more re­cently, Sam­sung smart­phones. But BMW has both scaled up and tough­ened up the tech­nol­ogy. The ba­sic set-up can be used in other recharge­able BMW mod­els.

En­gi­neers have put both com­po­nents through se­vere phys­i­cal tests. The pads, made of aluminium and cased in plas­tic, sur­vived. They were scratched but func­tional, says BMW wire­less charg­ing project man­ager Win­fried Siegl.

There are also safety fea­tures such as the floor pad’s de­tec­tor for liv­ing and for­eign ob­jects. If, say, a cat curls up on the floor pad while a car is charg­ing, the cur­rent is cut.

Siegl says BMW and Daim­ler are work­ing jointly to de­velop wire­less charg­ing tech. They’re nor­mally the best of en­e­mies, so col­lab­o­ra­tion means both be­lieve wire­less recharg­ing is very, very im­por­tant.

BMW’s ver­sion is very easy to use. Ap­proach­ing the pad head-on, the cen­tral screen in the in­stru­ment panel dis­plays an im­age from the car’s for­ward­fac­ing cam­era with two blue lines show­ing the cor­rect path.

When the car is within a me­tre or so, the screen view switches to a graphic. The driver po­si­tions a green ball rep­re­sent­ing the car over a blue cir­cle rep­re­sent­ing the charg­ing mat. An an­i­mated graphic con­firms charg­ing has be­gun.

It’s more con­ve­nient than us­ing a ca­ble but there are dis­ad­van­tages. In­duc­tive charg­ing isn’t as en­ergy ef­fi­cient as ca­ble charg­ing. There’s a loss of about 10 per cent, Siegl es­ti­mates. He ex­pects the tech will cost more than BMW’s $1750-plus-in­stal­la­tion ca­ble­con­nected i Wall­box, though the wire­less charger will re­fill the 530e’s lithium-ion bat­tery al­most as fast.

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