Economy, Auto

Carmakers Go for Wireless Standard

Carmakers Go for Wireless StandardCarmakers Go for Wireless Standard

Apple CEO Tim Cook had much to say about the iPhone on Sept. 9, when he took the stage to unveil the company's newest models. For automakers, the biggest takeaway was the feature he didn't discuss: wireless charging according to Automotive Europe.

Automakers such as Audi, General Motors and Toyota are adding wireless charging pads for smartphones to their cars.

Samsung, the No. 1 seller of Android smartphones, designed its flagship Galaxy S6 to charge wirelessly using the Qi charging standard, pronounced "chee."

Microsoft has done the same with its Lumia. But if Apple were to adopt a proprietary charging standard for the iPhone, a sizable share of Toyota's customers could be stuck with a charging pad they can't use.

"It's a technology waiting to explode in popularity, but it needs standards," John McLaughlin, the national manager of cross-car-line planning at Toyota Motor Sales US, said. "If Apple decides to do its own thing, what does that mean for us?"

  Automakers Gamble

Automakers see wireless charging as a way to eliminate the clutter of cables in the car. Audi plans to offer wireless charging in its next-generation A4 sedan and Q7 crossover, built into the center console with a signal booster for a better cell reception.

It serves a dual purpose: allowing the use of the phone without draining the battery while discouraging a driver from holding the phone in his or her hands.

The problem is, only a small share of phones has wireless charging out of the box. Other customers must pay $20 to $100 to get that functionality, either by buying a special case or attaching a sticky electronic receiver to the back of their phone.

Most of those receivers use Qi, put forward by a group called the Wireless Power Consortium. But it's possible that Apple could adopt its own standard, just as it uses its own lightning charging cable.

"Apple, in my view, isn't eager to adopt standards when they think they can do something themselves and ensure a very good user experience," said John Perzow, vice president of market development for the consortium, in an interview.

When it launched the Lexus NX crossover late last year, Toyota intended to sell 100% of units with wireless chargers. However, consumers walked into the showroom and complained about paying for a feature they didn't want to use. Toyota changed its plans for the NX; now, 35% of units ship with Qi chargers.

Another early adopter was General Motors, which built a wireless charging tray into the center armrest of the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade.

"The consumer reaction has been mixed," said Elizabeth Hayes, an engineering manager for body electronics at GM. Most of her feedback tends to come from iPhone users who cannot believe they need a special case.

"People are getting very tech-savvy," Hayes said. "The problem is they often expect their phones to do more than they actually do."