Lithium ion batteries may be the battery industry's glamour product, but Johnson Controls Inc. is betting heavily on an upgraded version of the lowly starter battery for sales growth.
Johnson Controls is marketing absorbent glass mat batteries that replace standard lead acid batteries. The company is converting plants and building factories in Europe, North America and China to meet expected demand, says Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Power Solutions. Molinaroli spoke to Special Correspondent David Sedgwick.
Q: How many absorbent glass mat batteries do you expect the industry will sell globally?
A: Thirty-five million batteries a year by 2015, primarily for original equipment. Absorbent glass mat batteries will start making their way into the aftermarket, but you won't see a huge aftermarket in 2015.
Last year you predicted that 70 percent of all new vehicles would have absorbent glass mat batteries by 2015.
That's for Europe. I don't believe we've talked about a sales estimate for North America, which will be substantially less than Europe but still significant. In North America, automakers will adopt fuel-saving strategies that require better energy storage. That will drive our customers to absorbent glass mat batteries.
Such as start-stop systems? Regenerative brakes? Other technologies?
Let's talk about EV batteries. Last year Johnson Controls ended its joint venture with French battery maker Saft to produce lithium ion batteries. Why?
This will allow us to pursue nonautomotive markets. We wanted to control our own destiny. To get economies of scale, we needed access to other markets outside the auto industry.
That partnership provided EV batteries to Mercedes, BMW and Ford. Will you keep those customers?
Yes, and some commercial vehicle customers, too. We have some EV customers in China, and we've got other customers that we can't talk about publicly.
The CEO of Continental AG predicted that electric cars won't generate big sales for another decade. Would you agree?
Yes, I would. In fact, the EV market may be even further away than that.
What about hybrid-powered vehicles?
Hybrids are still only 3 percent of the market. To design a hybrid you still have to make huge platform changes and add a whole lot of cost.