CES 2011: GM brings wireless phone charging to the car

Having addressed the problem of range anxiety for electric vehicles with the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors’ John Laukner has now set out to do the same for smartphones through the latest investment from GM Ventures. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, GM announced that its new venture capital fund would be investing $5 million in Powermat, a manufacturer of inductive charging systems for portable electronics.

Anyone that regularly uses a modern smartphone knows that battery life is aggravatingly short. With Ford, BMW, Kia, Lexus and, of course, GM launching infotainment systems that can support bluetooth streaming and control of apps like Pandora on phones, this minor annoyance is going to grow into a throbbing pain in the ass. General Motors is putting its money where its mouth is in developing a painkiller, though.

GM will soon be addressing digital-device range anxiety by integrating Powermat’s inductive charging pads into new vehicles. A prototype Chevrolet Volt on display at CES has two Powermats installed in the center console, one each between the the front and rear seats.

Inductive charging systems offer a convenient way to eliminate a plethora of unsightly power cords all over the cabin, but the devices need some special circuitry to support charging. Currently the only phones with built in support are the Palm Pre and Pixi, which were introduced with an inductive charger of Palm’s own design. Other devices need either a replacement battery cover which are currently only available for some Blackberry, HTC and Motorola phones. Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch don’t have replaceable batteries, so Powemat has devised a case with the needed circuitry.

GM will start offering the Powermat as a factory installed option for the Volt and other models in 2012 with pricing to be announced later.

Press Release

GM, Powermat to Put Added ‘Charge’ in Chevy Volt
Automaker Invests in Start-Up to Do Away With Charging Cords

LAS VEGAS – General Motors and Powermat, a pioneer in wireless charging technology, announced a commercial agreement today that will eliminate the need for charging cords for personal electronic devices in many future Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac products beginning mid-2012.

GM Ventures, the company’s venture capital subsidiary, will invest $5 million in Powermat to accelerate the technology’s development and support efforts to grow Powermat’s business globally.

Powermat’s technology allows electronic devices – smart phones, MP3 players and gaming devices – to be charged safely and efficiently, according to Powermat CEO Ran Poliakine.

The Chevrolet Volt, conceived as a reinvention of the automobile that would help reduce America’s dependence on oil, while providing the assurance of an extended driving range, will be one of the first GM vehicles to offer this technology.  The technology is expected to revolutionize how electronic devices are charged in a car.

“Imagine a mat or shelf where you could put your iPhone, your Droid or other personal device and charge it automatically while you commute to work, run errands or as you’re driving on a family vacation,” said Micky Bly, GM’s lead electronics executive, including infotainment, hybrids and battery electric vehicles.

“The Chevy Volt will be one of the first applications, but we intend to expand it across our vehicle portfolio,” Bly said.

Powermat, a private firm, was founded in 2007 and offers wireless charging products for the home in a number of retail stores, including Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart.

Poliakine is excited to start with the Chevrolet Volt, which has swept major Car of the Year awards to date.

“GM is among the rarest of giants in today’s business climate: a forward-thinking innovator with the courage and good sense to care about the well-being of the consumer and the well-being of our planet,” Poliakine said.

Jon Lauckner, who helped create the Volt concept and now is President of GM Ventures, has been dreaming about a technology like Powermat for years.

“We first developed the Volt concept car in 2006,” Lauckner said. “The intent was to revolutionize every aspect of the car, not just the propulsion system.  We had something like this in mind even then, and we think it will have widespread appeal.”

About General Motors
General Motors Company (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM), one of the world’s largest automakers, traces its roots back to 1908.  With its global headquarters in Detroit, GM employs 209,000 people in every major region of the world and does business in more than 120 countries.  GM and its strategic partners produce cars and trucks in 31 countries, and sell and service these vehicles through the following brands:  Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Daewoo, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall, and Wuling.  GM’s largest national market is China, followed by the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and Russia.  GM’s OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services.

About Powermat
Powermat was the first company to perfect inductive-based wireless charging and to bring it to consumers in a widely available, meaningful way via mainstream retail channels.  The undisputed leader in wireless charging, Powermat leads the category in all facets including technology, retail footprint, consumer experience, and brand. Powermat allows users to enable their electronic devices once with a Powermat receiver and then set down up to three devices on the charging mat for fast, safe and effective wireless charging. It’s simple, effortless, and provides consumers with first-of-its-kind freedom from the need to constantly plug/unplug as well as the angst of running on empty.

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