MILWAUKEE -- To anyone who assumes that electric vehicles will dictate the car battery market of the future, Joe Walicki has a message: Not so fast.
Walicki, president of Johnson Controls Inc.'s battery division, is unconcerned by the flood of advanced EV batteries that is supposed to start flowing from Tesla Motors Inc.'s $5 billion "gigafactory" this year.
Walicki believes EVs are a niche product and will remain so for years. Instead, he sees a bright future for advances in lead-acid car batteries -- even to drive the coming generation of vehicle technologies.
Stop-start systems? You bet. Forty-eight-volt electrical systems? Sure. Electrically powered turbochargers? Why not? Regenerative brakes? Bring them on, Walicki says.
All these technologies share one trait: They run on electricity.
But a conventional 12-volt lead-acid battery isn't durable enough for a vehicle with a stop-start system -- let alone all these other features. So JCI is marketing absorbent glass mat, or AGM, batteries, which are durable enough to restart a vehicle's engine dozens of times a day. JCI says its AGM batteries use glass mat separators that deliver up to two times the life of standard lead-acid batteries.
That's where JCI's growth opportunity is, Walicki says.
Mindful of this, JCI is doubling down on its investment in AGM batteries. On June 13, the company announced plans to spend $245 million to expand North American production of the batteries. Through 2020, the company will spend $780 million to increase global production.
"We want to make sure we get our fair share" of AGM battery sales, Walicki says. "We are the clear leaders in the U.S. and Canada, and in Western Europe, we have greater share than all of our competitors combined."
He forecasts that by 2020, 85 percent of new vehicles in Europe and 40 percent in the U.S. and China will have stop-start systems -- but not through EVs.
With the federal fuel economy target of 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year looming, most automakers have penciled stop-start systems into their product plans.
Since JCI has a 70 percent share of AGM battery sales worldwide, it expects to make some money. While an AGM battery costs twice as much as an ordinary lead-acid battery, stop-start systems can improve fuel economy by 5 percent.