Rebecca Hough envisions a world in which transmitting devices embedded in highways will automatically charge your electric vehicle as you drive. If and when that happens, she hopes to already have a strong foothold in the electric vehicle (EV) market with Plugless Power, a system that wirelessly charges your car, similar to how a charging pad juices up your iPhone.
Hough developed Plugless Power with her father, Tom Hough, the founder of Wytheville, Virginia-based MTC Transformers, which makes the kinds of large electrical transformers you see on telephone poles. "He started thinking about the next big market segment and began talking to his engineers about using the same technology behind transformer design to power electric cars," says Hough. At the time, she was working at a consulting company in New York but "really got the bug and jumped on board" with her dad in 2009.
The Houghs created Evatran, initially a subsidiary of MTC, to research a plugless power system and build a prototype for the EV industry. A year later, the company was spun off as a separate entity with Rebecca as CEO. She helped raise $2.5 million from private investors and $4 million in Department of Energy grants, and recruited partners such as Google, Hertz, Duke Energy, and Bosch to test and give feedback on Evatran’s product. The system consists of a charging station that’s installed in a garage or a driveway, and a receiving device on the undercarriage of the vehicle. Energy is transmitted and converted into electrical current automatically whenever the vehicle is parked. No physical connection is needed.
Hough says that the company is working with major U.S. and German auto manufacturers on an OEM integrated product that should hit the market in 2015. But in May of this year, an aftermarket product was ready to roll, with approximately 400 reservations from owners of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. "It was all inbound marketing," says Hough. "People heard about it and wanted it." Evatran has a distribution agreement with Sears and a memo of understanding with Bosch to sell and install Plugless Power, which will cost consumers approximately $2,800.
While there are other companies working on similar products, such as Qualcomm, Bosch’s Vice President of EV Solutions, Kevin Mull, says that Evatran’s advantage is that "in our analysis, they were going to be first to market with an aftermarket product that consumers could purchase independent from the vehicle purchase." Hough predicts that Evatran will sell 2,000 Plugless Power systems this year.
And what about her larger and more well-resourced competitors? Others have focused on the technical aspects of power transfer, she say, while Evatran has the secret sauce when it comes to making a system that’s user friendly. And, she says, "we’re pretty nimble."