Qualcomm and Tesla: Making Electric Cars Viable

By Rob Enderle March 20, 2012

I was at Santana Row yesterday, a Silicon Valley shopping center designed to provide a European-like street experience and coincidently Tesla was showcasing their new lines. This was their new coupe and SUV and my wife took one look at the SUV and said “I found my new car” and my wallet let out a squeal and crawled down deeper in my pocket.

You see, I’m not a fan of electric cars because they are so impractical. However on Monday, Qualcomm presented their Halo technology that could make electric cars truly practical. Suddenly I’m interested and the combination of both days’ events suggests that electric cars could become far more practical.

Tesla: Electrical Cars Become Practical

My first experience with a Tesla was with their sports car and from the standpoint of being fun, there are few cars that are more so. However from the standpoint of being practical, there are few cars that are less practical either. What makes the car fun is the fastest 0-30 speed on the planet thanks to the electric’s ability to generate 100 percent torque from zero. If you want to dust someone at a stoplight you can do so without breaking most speed limits and it is very similar to the experience on a roller coaster.  

On the other hand the car has no storage space, has no insulation to speak of (so road noise is pronounced), and it cost a whopping $120K. While range advertised at over 200 miles, this range dropped sharply the faster you drove and charging time was measured in hours not minutes and finding a place to charge the car is daunting at best. 

Tesla’s new Sedan and SUV don’t quiet have the performance of the sports car but they are far more practical. They are quiet and roomy and the gull wing back doors of the SUV are breathtaking. Prices are in line with luxury cars and no long in the nose-bleed territory.  

However while charging is shorter, it still is the biggest obstacle, which takes us to Qualcomm Halo.

Qualcomm Halo Dynamic Charging

This is brilliant, what Qualcomm was presenting. Qualcomm Halo was a system that could be built into parking lots and eventually roads, that could charge the cars whenever parked and handle the billing. This is contactless charging and doesn’t require exact coupling between the car and the electrical source. This is wireless charging and it uses an electrical grid that lies underneath the pavement to charge your car wirelessly wherever it is parked.   

Cities could put these grids in parking places and not only automatically bill for the parking but charge the car while parked and bill for that as well. In short cities could cut down on pollutants and increase revenues associated with car use.

Companies and stores could provide charging as a benefit, rather than the cabled methods in place now, which have proven less than ideal (breakers tend to blow if too many cars are hooked to a terminal and because they are mechanical they have maintenance issues). Given this technology is largely solid state there is little maintenance beyond making sure that road or parking lot work doesn’t damage the cables and the problem of forgetting to plug the car in (a common problem with electric cars) is eventually eliminated. 

Finally the mass adoption of this technology would eventually have this embedded into roads so that for long distance trips you’d never actually have to stop for gas, a clear problem for wives, but, second only to GPS systems which eliminated the need to ask for directions, a huge benefit for husbands who don’t believe in stopping for anything.   

In the end electric cars could have an advantage over gas cars in fueling – you’d simply never have to ever think about fueling the car ever again.

Wrapping Up: 10 Years

Tesla has electric cars almost cooked; I could now see driving a Tesla because their new cars are far more practical than their initial line. But to truly make electric cars compelling we have to formally address the charging problem and make electric cars not just as good as gas, but far better. The Qualcomm Halo effort is a huge step in this direction. Given that I believe our addiction to gas is at the core of everything, from funding terrorists to fueling a massive trade imbalance in the US, I can think of no change more important near-term. This could change the world as we know it and sometimes changing the world is what the technology market exists to do.  

Edited by Jennifer Russell

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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