DETROIT -- When Ford Motor Co. awarded Johnson Controls-Saft the contract to supply lithium ion battery packs for the plug-in Escape Hybrid, Ford chose a supplier with engineers familiar with the inner workings of its hybrid powertrain.
Several Johnson Controls battery engineers working on the new contract are hybrid veterans who left Ford as it downsized. Ford executives say that will help Ford with development costs, quality and performance.
Ford late Monday awarded Johnson Controls-Saft a five-year contract to supply battery packs for a plug-in hybrid that starts production in 2012. Ford wont say what vehicle gets the plug-in powertrain, but a fleet of Ford Escape Hybrids is being tested in California. Those vehicles have Johnson Controls-Saft batteries.
The contract calls for a target of 5,000 battery packs a year, more if demand is higher. The battery cells will be made in a new plant in Nersac, France, and assembled into packs at the Johnson Controls-Saft battery technology center in Milwaukee. The packs will be delivered to Ford as ready-to-install modules.
Johnson Controls engineers will design the pack, including the thermal system, electrical interfaces and safety systems.
Before she left Ford in late 2005, Mary Ann Wright was Fords director of sustainable mobility technologies and hybrid vehicle programs. She worked briefly at Collins & Aikman Corp. before leaving to head Johnson Controls hybrid operations in early 2007. Since then, at least three of Fords top hybrid engineers have moved to Johnson Controls-Saft.
One is Craig Rigby, who was Fords supervisor of hybrid battery systems before joining Johnson Controls. Rigby now is vice president of global product engineering and power solutions. David Cue, another former Ford hybrid engineer, is vice president of business development at Johnson Controls-Saft. Another former Ford hybrid veteran is Majid Taghikhani, Johnson Controls-Safts project leader for hybrid vehicle battery systems.
Tom Watson, former chief engineer for the Escape Hybrid, said he believes the team of former Ford engineers Wright assembled will give Ford competitive advantages.
They know the nuances of Fords hybrid powertrain. Watson most recently was vice president of engineering for ArvinMeritor Inc.s now-defunct light-vehicle systems unit.
Watson said Wrights team knows what it takes to deliver a reliable battery pack.
They were the first among domestic automakers to deliver a hybrid battery system to the market, Watson said, referring to the Escape Hybrids launch in 2004.
Nancy Gioia, who took over Ford hybrid vehicles after Wright left, said one reason Johnson Controls-Saft won the contract is because the company had leading lithium ion technology.
Under Wright, Johnson Controls-Saft has won supply contracts from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and several other automakers, including at least two in China.
Ironically, another former director of Fords hybrid vehicle efforts has scored the biggest battery coup yet.
Last month, General Motors awarded the lithium ion battery contract for the Chevrolet Volt to Compact Power Inc., of suburban Detroit, a unit of South Koreas LG Chem. Compact Power is run by Prabhakar Patil, who was chief engineer of Fords hybrid technologies for the Ford Escape Hybrid until 2003, when Wright took over.