Drive Shift | 4th Edition: Wireless EV Charging, Last-Mile Delivery Robots, and In-Car Subscriptions

Is wireless the future of EV charging? 

Recent industry events raise important questions

In our previous newsletter, we shed some light on battery swapping technology, one of the innovative alternatives for charging electric vehicles. This time, we’re talking about another (no less interesting!) solution: wireless charging, a technology that enables EVs to recharge batteries without the need for physical cable connections. Wireless charging typically involves using electromagnetic fields to transfer energy from a charging pad on the ground to a receiving coil on the vehicle, providing a convenient and efficient way to recharge. Chargers can be located in dedicated stations or parking lots or, ideally, embedded in the roads themselves, as tested in various pilot projects in Japan, Germany, the USA, South Korea, and other countries.

Wireless EV charging offers several advantages – convenience being chief among them. Wireless charging does not require physically plugging in, which eliminates the need for cables and makes it easier for users to recharge their EVs. However, there are some drawbacks to consider. First, wireless charging is less efficient than wired charging – it can be slower and may result in some energy loss during the transfer. Additionally, the installation of wireless charging infrastructure can be expensive, and not all EV models are compatible with this technology.

In recent years, several startup companies have been working to promote the wireless charging line and have managed to raise significant funding and to launch pilot projects. For example, Witricity, an American-based company, raised about $175M and managed to sign some important deals with tech leaders including Siemens and Intel. Another significant startup in that field is the Israeli-based Electreon, which has managed to raise $50M and sign several pilot projects in Israel, the US, and Europe. (It must be mentioned, however, that last August, the company reported that  its pilot with the Swedish government to build the longest electric road in the world had been canceled, which led to an immediate drop in its stock (about 40%).)

Electreon’s case is not the only one that raises questions about the future of this market. Last August, Tesla acquired the wireless charging Germany-based firm Wiferion. This move, which came amid reports that Tesla was exploring the wireless charging solution, reinforced the feeling that the industry as a whole was heading in that same direction. However, two months later, it was announced that Tesla had sold the company, which again raised doubts about the adoption of this solution.

So, is the future of charging wireless or otherwise? We will just have to keep following – and updating on – the frequent developments.

Last-mile delivery robots gaining momentum as autonomous vehicles delayed

As autonomous technology keeps developing, it is still clear that mass adoption of autonomous vehicles will still take time. Currently, if you walk around San Francisco, Phoenix, or Beijing, you can see robotaxis driving in the city centers. However, at the moment, their operation is limited to certain areas at specific hours.

Until the conditions are ripe for the mass adoption of AVs, other applications of these technologies are gaining momentum. Delivery robots provide an excellent example of this. These autonomous machines promise to revolutionize the way goods are delivered. As they navigate streets and sidewalks, delivery robots are becoming an increasingly common sight in urban environments, sparking both excitement and debate about their potential impact on the future of logistics.

One of the most significant advantages of delivery robots is their potential to enhance efficiency and reduce delivery times. These machines can navigate through crowded streets and deliver packages with precision, eliminating delays caused by traffic or human limitations. Moreover, delivery robots contribute to sustainability efforts by minimizing the need for traditional delivery vehicles, leading to a reduction in carbon emissions.

Despite all this, it is clear that the market – the public – must still be educated in order to become accustomed to this innovative method of delivery. Occasional incidents between pedestrians and delivery robots create headlines, and recently disturbing phenomena like theft and vandalism have even emerged.

Despite the challenges that still need to be solved, it seems that these AVs are consistently spreading. This month, South Korea was the latest country to approve delivery robots to operate on their streets, joining the US, Japan, and several European countries that are already getting acquainted with these small vehicles. Simultaneously, the regulatory approval of many countries accelerates the prosperity of providers such as Nuro or Starship Technologies, who manage to raise significant funding, sign important partnerships, and deploy their fleets. The Uber-backed Serve Robotics, one of the rising stars in this industry, recently signed a deal to deploy 2,000 delivery robots for the use of Uber Eats. To support this goal, the company announced it would go public. It raised about $30M and partnered with the Israeli teleoperation software company Ottopia, which will allow it to employ a human operator to communicate with its autonomous vehicles.

To summarize, delivery robots are an interesting “simulation” or “test run” for the autonomous field, and lessons-learned from this market will be applied in the future to improve the larger market of autonomous vehicles.

Audi's latest move is further evidence of the future of in-car services subscription programs.

This month, Audi – considered one of the most technologically advanced car manufacturers – announced its plans to expand the on-demand features in its vehicles. Starting next year, more owners of Audi’s cars will be able to benefit from premium features such as upgraded lighting or semi-autonomous parking features in exchange for a monthly payment. This move is a part of a relatively new and controversial business model many OEMs are adopting in recent years.

As we may notice, many consumers, mainly from younger generations, are more open to consuming products and services through subscription programs and giving up the ownership model. While Netflix’s streaming service is probably the most notable subscription example, the trend is much wider and expands to toothbrushes, groceries, furniture, luxury watches, and many other products. The automotive industry is also actively adapting to this new trend, with OEMs and startups introducing car subscription programs. These programs offer flexible leasing options, showcasing the industry's responsiveness to evolving consumer preferences. Another subscription model in this industry is for in-car services like what Audi offers, in which drivers can pay monthly for getting extra features such as infotainment, safety, and convenience services.

While the response of consumers to different subscription models has been largely positive for other products, not so for in-car services. In a survey conducted by Cox Automotive among potential customers, it was found that about 70% of them will prefer vehicles that provide all the features without extra payments and about 75% of respondents see the features-on-demand trend as just a way for OEMs to make more money for each vehicle. In other words, most consumers do not understand why they should pay for features that are already available in the vehicles.

One story that represents the conflict of the subscription model for in-car services is of BMW’s heated seats. In July 2022, the German OEM started to offer an $18 monthly subscription for the option to warm the seats in its vehicles. This move was heavily criticized by consumers and the media and became a symbol of the approach overall. Finally, last September, BMW decided to drop the program and to focus on other software services.

But don't let BMW’s response fool you; subscriptions for in-car services are here to stay, even if the OEMs will need to find a better way to market them. Some strategies we can expect to see include free trial periods, attractive prices, and targeted marketing – any of which could allow OEMs to continue to develop this revenue channel. Furthermore, the manufacturers will have to focus their offer on services that are truly seen as premium – such as safety and autonomous driving – and less on features that are considered default or unnecessary.

It will be interesting to continue to follow this developing market, both business-wise and technologically.

Is wireless the future of EV charging? 

Recent industry events raise important questions

In our previous newsletter, we shed some light on battery swapping technology, one of the innovative alternatives for charging electric vehicles. This time, we’re talking about another (no less interesting!) solution: wireless charging, a technology that enables EVs to recharge batteries without the need for physical cable connections. Wireless charging typically involves using electromagnetic fields to transfer energy from a charging pad on the ground to a receiving coil on the vehicle, providing a convenient and efficient way to recharge. Chargers can be located in dedicated stations or parking lots or, ideally, embedded in the roads themselves, as tested in various pilot projects in Japan, Germany, the USA, South Korea, and other countries.

Wireless EV charging offers several advantages – convenience being chief among them. Wireless charging does not require physically plugging in, which eliminates the need for cables and makes it easier for users to recharge their EVs. However, there are some drawbacks to consider. First, wireless charging is less efficient than wired charging – it can be slower and may result in some energy loss during the transfer. Additionally, the installation of wireless charging infrastructure can be expensive, and not all EV models are compatible with this technology.

In recent years, several startup companies have been working to promote the wireless charging line and have managed to raise significant funding and to launch pilot projects. For example, Witricity, an American-based company, raised about $175M and managed to sign some important deals with tech leaders including Siemens and Intel. Another significant startup in that field is the Israeli-based Electreon, which has managed to raise $50M and sign several pilot projects in Israel, the US, and Europe. (It must be mentioned, however, that last August, the company reported that  its pilot with the Swedish government to build the longest electric road in the world had been canceled, which led to an immediate drop in its stock (about 40%).)

Electreon’s case is not the only one that raises questions about the future of this market. Last August, Tesla acquired the wireless charging Germany-based firm Wiferion. This move, which came amid reports that Tesla was exploring the wireless charging solution, reinforced the feeling that the industry as a whole was heading in that same direction. However, two months later, it was announced that Tesla had sold the company, which again raised doubts about the adoption of this solution.

So, is the future of charging wireless or otherwise? We will just have to keep following – and updating on – the frequent developments.

Last-mile delivery robots gaining momentum as autonomous vehicles delayed

As autonomous technology keeps developing, it is still clear that mass adoption of autonomous vehicles will still take time. Currently, if you walk around San Francisco, Phoenix, or Beijing, you can see robotaxis driving in the city centers. However, at the moment, their operation is limited to certain areas at specific hours.

Until the conditions are ripe for the mass adoption of AVs, other applications of these technologies are gaining momentum. Delivery robots provide an excellent example of this. These autonomous machines promise to revolutionize the way goods are delivered. As they navigate streets and sidewalks, delivery robots are becoming an increasingly common sight in urban environments, sparking both excitement and debate about their potential impact on the future of logistics.

One of the most significant advantages of delivery robots is their potential to enhance efficiency and reduce delivery times. These machines can navigate through crowded streets and deliver packages with precision, eliminating delays caused by traffic or human limitations. Moreover, delivery robots contribute to sustainability efforts by minimizing the need for traditional delivery vehicles, leading to a reduction in carbon emissions.

Despite all this, it is clear that the market – the public – must still be educated in order to become accustomed to this innovative method of delivery. Occasional incidents between pedestrians and delivery robots create headlines, and recently disturbing phenomena like theft and vandalism have even emerged.

Despite the challenges that still need to be solved, it seems that these AVs are consistently spreading. This month, South Korea was the latest country to approve delivery robots to operate on their streets, joining the US, Japan, and several European countries that are already getting acquainted with these small vehicles. Simultaneously, the regulatory approval of many countries accelerates the prosperity of providers such as Nuro or Starship Technologies, who manage to raise significant funding, sign important partnerships, and deploy their fleets. The Uber-backed Serve Robotics, one of the rising stars in this industry, recently signed a deal to deploy 2,000 delivery robots for the use of Uber Eats. To support this goal, the company announced it would go public. It raised about $30M and partnered with the Israeli teleoperation software company Ottopia, which will allow it to employ a human operator to communicate with its autonomous vehicles.

To summarize, delivery robots are an interesting “simulation” or “test run” for the autonomous field, and lessons-learned from this market will be applied in the future to improve the larger market of autonomous vehicles.

Audi's latest move is further evidence of the future of in-car services subscription programs.

This month, Audi – considered one of the most technologically advanced car manufacturers – announced its plans to expand the on-demand features in its vehicles. Starting next year, more owners of Audi’s cars will be able to benefit from premium features such as upgraded lighting or semi-autonomous parking features in exchange for a monthly payment. This move is a part of a relatively new and controversial business model many OEMs are adopting in recent years.

As we may notice, many consumers, mainly from younger generations, are more open to consuming products and services through subscription programs and giving up the ownership model. While Netflix’s streaming service is probably the most notable subscription example, the trend is much wider and expands to toothbrushes, groceries, furniture, luxury watches, and many other products. The automotive industry is also actively adapting to this new trend, with OEMs and startups introducing car subscription programs. These programs offer flexible leasing options, showcasing the industry's responsiveness to evolving consumer preferences. Another subscription model in this industry is for in-car services like what Audi offers, in which drivers can pay monthly for getting extra features such as infotainment, safety, and convenience services.

While the response of consumers to different subscription models has been largely positive for other products, not so for in-car services. In a survey conducted by Cox Automotive among potential customers, it was found that about 70% of them will prefer vehicles that provide all the features without extra payments and about 75% of respondents see the features-on-demand trend as just a way for OEMs to make more money for each vehicle. In other words, most consumers do not understand why they should pay for features that are already available in the vehicles.

One story that represents the conflict of the subscription model for in-car services is of BMW’s heated seats. In July 2022, the German OEM started to offer an $18 monthly subscription for the option to warm the seats in its vehicles. This move was heavily criticized by consumers and the media and became a symbol of the approach overall. Finally, last September, BMW decided to drop the program and to focus on other software services.

But don't let BMW’s response fool you; subscriptions for in-car services are here to stay, even if the OEMs will need to find a better way to market them. Some strategies we can expect to see include free trial periods, attractive prices, and targeted marketing – any of which could allow OEMs to continue to develop this revenue channel. Furthermore, the manufacturers will have to focus their offer on services that are truly seen as premium – such as safety and autonomous driving – and less on features that are considered default or unnecessary.

It will be interesting to continue to follow this developing market, both business-wise and technologically.