MILWAUKEE -- Joe Walicki is betting $780 million that Tesla's high-tech, electric-vehicle battery gigafactory in Nevada does not represent the future of the auto battery business.
That's how much Johnson Controls Inc. is spending to expand its global production of absorbent glass mat batteries, an improved lead-acid battery optimized for vehicles with stop-start systems.
While AGM batteries cost twice as much as conventional lead-acid batteries, they are durable enough to restart a vehicle's engine dozens of times a day as it idles in traffic and at red lights.
Walicki, 51, president of Johnson Controls' worldwide battery division, is betting the future of his company -- the world's top producer of automotive batteries -- on two assumptions.
First, automakers will meet tougher corporate average fuel economy standards by upgrading their internal combustion engines, rather than by switching en masse to electric cars. Second, stop-start systems will become ubiquitous as automakers improve fuel economy step by step.
Walicki spelled out his business strategy during a June 13 interview here with Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick.
Q: You've got big expectations for stop-start systems. By 2020, what percentage of new vehicles will have this technology?
A: We believe 50 percent of vehicles built in North America will have stop-start systems, up from 10 percent now. We expect 80 percent of vehicles built in Europe will have it, up from 60 percent now. And more than half of China's new vehicles will have it.
Those are big numbers.
Do you view AGM batteries as an interim technology to be replaced by lithium ion batteries for electric cars?
All of our modeling shows that AGM batteries will be around for a long time -- out to 2035 or 2040. As you introduce low-voltage solutions [such as stop-start, regenerative brakes and 48-volt electrical systems], AGM batteries will be most frequently paired with these technologies.
Is it true that BMW has three AGM batteries in the new 7-series sedan?
Yes, three batteries.
Over the next decade or so, what are your U.S. market expectations for electric cars and plug-in hybrids?
Even if you listen to some of the biggest proponents, they will tell you that EVs and plug-in hybrids will account for only 4 to 6 percent of the market in 2025.
Is it cheaper to introduce 48-volt systems that optimize features such as stop-start and regenerative brakes?
Forty-eight-volt systems are easier to adapt into the existing powertrain, and you get 70 percent of the benefit of a hybrid vehicle at 20 percent of the cost. You won't need two powertrains, and you won't have to change the driving experience of your customers since they don't have to plug in their vehicle.
Forty-eight-volt systems require a second battery, a starter generator and beefed-up wiring, right?
And some battery management, too.
How much would a 48-volt system cost?
You hear estimates of $1,200 to $1,500. A plug-in hybrid system would cost four to six times as much because you need an internal combustion engine, an electric motor and a big battery.
What effect will self-driving vehicles have on the battery?
We won't get to autonomous vehicles overnight, but things like autonomous braking and automatic parking will require more computers in the vehicle. The electrical load will go up, and 48 volts can address that.