Major U.S. city’s big electric-vehicle plan could change how you drive

The Motor City is taking it to the streets — literally.

It was way back in 1896 when Henry Ford took his first automobile for a spin through Detroit. 

The founder of Ford  (F) – Get Free Report Motor set up shop in the city a few years later and was soon joined by the likes of General Motors  (GM) – Get Free Report and Chrysler. Detroit went on to become the automobile capital of the world.

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A lot has changed since those early days of the internal combustion engine, with one of the biggest being the rise of electric vehicles.

Electric-vehicle sales are expected to hit a record 9% of all passenger vehicles in the U.S. this year, according to Atlas Public Policy, up from 7.3% of new-car sales in 2022. 

These EVs are going to need to be charged. And the Michigan Department of Transportation recently unveiled what is being called the nation’s first wireless-charging public roadway for EVs, a street just west of downtown Detroit.

How the new electrified roadway works

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the pilot program in September 2021.

How does the roadway work? Copper inductive charging coils enable vehicles equipped with receivers to charge their batteries while the vehicles are being driven, idling or parking  above the coils.

When a vehicle with a receiver nears the in-road charging segments, the road transfers electricity wirelessly through a magnetic field. The electricity is then transferred as energy to the vehicle’s battery.

The technology belongs to Electreon, an Israel-based company that has contracts for similar roadways in Israel, Sweden, Italy and Germany.

Officials said that 14th Street is now equipped with inductive-charging coils between Marantette and Dalzelle streets. They will charge EVs equipped with Electreon receivers as they drive on the road.

And since Henry Ford got things rolling here in Detroit, it’s fitting that the company that bears his name provided a Ford E-Transit commercial van that can charge as it moved over a quarter-mile stretch of newly paved 14th Street.

The charging road runs alongside the Newlab tech facility at the Michigan Central Building, which is home to more than 60 tech and mobility startups.

The transportation department said that remaining work along 14th Street was expected to continue through the end of 2023, with extensive testing of the inductive charging technology beginning in early 2024, state officials said. 

Combating electric-vehicle owners’ range anxiety 

The electrified road is safe for drivers, pedestrians and wildlife, officials said. Each coil in the road is activated only when a vehicle with an approved receiver passes over the coil, ensuring that energy transfer is controlled and provided only to vehicles that require it.

The announcement comes at a difficult time for the EV sector, with automakers, including Ford and GM, postponing their electric-vehicle projects.

Consumers have named the high initial cost of EVs as their biggest concern, followed by a limited number of charging stations, which gives rise to so-called range anxiety. That’s the concern drivers have that they won’t have enough power to get where they’re going.

“Developing electrified roadways may be the catalyst to accelerate interest and acceptance of EVs for all consumers,” the transport agency’s director, Bradley Wieferich, said in a statement. 

“Making it easier for EV users to find a reliable charging source without disrupting their commute supports both fleet operations and passenger travel.”

Stefan Tongur, Electreon’s vice president of business development, said that the project is in use for buses in Israel, which pay a fee to use the service, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The inductive-charging roadway isn’t seen as a complete solution to expanding the EV charging infrastructure. Rather, it would function as a range extender, to be paired with charging vehicles when they are stationary.

The cost for this project, according to the Michigan transport department, is $1.9 million in state funds and $4 million from the Electreon team and others.

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