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JCI preps lightweight lead-acid battery

DETROIT -- The drive to reduce vehicle weight now includes the old-fashioned lead-acid battery.

Supplier Johnson Controls Inc. is working on a lightweight battery that could be ready in about a year.

Brian Kesseler, president of the Milwaukee company's Power Solutions unit, said JCI engineers are working on a battery that cuts weight 25 percent. A typical car battery weighs about 39 pounds.

"Today's batteries are overdesigned, and the specifications required by automakers date back to the 1960s," he said Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show.

Thinner engine oil, fuel injection, electronic ignitions and other improvements to car engines enables them to start quickly in freezing temperatures.

But automakers require batteries to crank an engine for 20 seconds in cold weather. That is no longer a good measurement for cold-weather performance, Kesseler said.

The battery is one the heaviest components under the hood, weighing more than the alternator, starter or air conditioning compressor.

Ford's introduction of the lightweight aluminum F-150 at the 2014 Detroit auto show this week has placed another high-profile spotlight on weight reduction.

"Everyone is looking at reducing weight," said MaryAnn Wright, JCI's vice president of engineering and product development. "That's the first lever you pull."

The cost may not be lower initially for a lightweight battery, she said, because removing weight increases costs for engineering, manufacturing and possibly materials, depending on the chemistry used in the battery.

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