Winter is coming. No, that's not a "Game of Thrones" reference; it's a reminder to everyone who pumps their own gas that it's almost that time again -- shivering at the pump, looking for a spot with the least amount of snow, cursing the displayed numbers for not moving quickly enough.
Sure, you can decide on full service, but for some car owners, there's another option -- an option which, according to Wintergreen Research, will grow from the current market of $1.7 million to $4.6 billion by 2019.
Look ma, no hands!
Although electric vehicles, or EVs, are quickly becoming expected by the mainstream media and consumer, they're far from being a common sight on the roads. Nonetheless, this development in the EV story may be another nail in the gas-guzzling car's coffin. Qualcomm's (NASDAQ: QCOM ) Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging is an innovative system that uses inductive power transfer to charge an EV's battery. This system, Qualcomm Halo, offers EV owners a chance to cut the cord -- the power cord -- and refuel by just parking the car on a recharging pad, as demonstrated in the following video:
Currently, Halo is not commercially available, but in an interview with engadget.com, Qualcomm CMO, Anand Chandrasekher, said, "There are a few [suppliers] that are already building with our technology, so within the next few years, hopefully we'll see some of this in market." However, the Halo technology is being piloted in London, where it is being used in a combination of light goods vehicles and passenger cars -- an initiative supported by U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Qualcomm believes that it can monetize this solution in a horizontal model, in which it can license the technology to multiple suppliers. This is a big part of the company's overall business model. One of the four segments Qualcomm operates, QTL, grants licenses or otherwise provides access to the company's intellectual property portfolio. For the most recent quarter, this segment accounted for about $1.9 million of the company's $6.2 million. The successful development and commercialization of the Halo technology could be an excellent addition to an already stellar IP portfolio. Not to mention, Qualcomm could gain first-mover status in the potentially (and deceptively) huge market of EV charging solutions.
Although they do not offer off plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the United States, AB Volvo (NASDAQOTH: VOLVY ) does have a model, the Volvo V60 Plug-In Diesel, which the company introduced at the New York Auto Show last spring. Volvo expects to offer the XC60 Plug-In Hybrid in the U.S. in the next few years. In addition, it is exploring wireless charging technology. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Lennart Stegland, vice president, electric propulsion system at Volvo Car Group, said, "Cordless technology is a comfortable and effective way to conveniently transfer energy." The company does have some experience in selling electric vehicles. In the previous quarter, Volvo received an order for 200 hybrid electric buses to Colombia. In Western Europe, Volvo entered the French market with the delivery of two electric buses to Lyon. Although deliveries were up, 1,939 for Q3 2013 over 1,766 for the same period last year, sales, adjusted for currency fluctuations, decreased by 4%.
Cutting the cord
Another company pursuing wireless charging technology is Delphi Automotive (NYSE: DLPH ) . Partnering with WiTricity, Delphi is working closely with Toyota to make wireless charging a reality. According to Satoshi Ogiso, Toyota's managing officer, testing will continue on the wireless charging technology in 2014. Perhaps, this result in the next-generation Prius showcasing the technology in 2015.
Delphi Automotive, already is one of the global leaders in vehicle component manufacturing -- its Q2 2013 revenue totaled $4.2 billion, an increase a 6% increase from the prior year's period. Delphi's successful implementation of the wireless charging technology would suggest that Qualcomm has some strong competition in the market. Arguably, Toyota's Prius is the most recognized alternative fuel car in the U.S., so for Delphi to be identified with Prius as the provider of the wireless charging technology would go a long way.
A sleight of hand
Curiously absent from the conversation regarding wireless charging technology is Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) . Perhaps the electric-car maker does not see it as a worthy enough pursuit, or perhaps it is sidetracked by the feverish attempt to build out its Supercharger Network, but it seems odd that Tesla, the poster child for all things trendy in EVs, has nothing to say about it.
The Supercharger Network, available for qualified Model S owners, allows drivers to obtain a half-charge in about 20 minutes. Although there are only 31 stations now in the U.S., Tesla plans on installing them in most major metropolitan locations in the country by the end of 2013, building enough to allow for coast-to-coast travel. By 2014, Tesla envisions 80% of the U.S. population and parts of Canada being covered; by 2015, it plans to have 98% covered.
The Foolish conclusion
According to Pike Research, wireless charging system sales will surpass 280,000 by 2020. But, even now, the wireless charging of vehicles is evident everywhere -- from Bogota to Turin to New York, where NYU is participating in a program in which it will use two charging stations, developed by Hevo Power, for two of its university vehicles.
Wireless charging is the next chapter in the rapidly evolving EV story. Qualcomm and Delphi are key players in this space, and the fact that they're out in front may benefit investors handsomely.
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