Johnson Controls Inc. and its joint venture partner will begin making the first full production lithium-ion batteries for the auto industry later this month in Europe and is extending its reach in the technology into China to make the batteries for SAIC Motor Corp. Ltd.
Both contracts are part of the push to begin using lithium-ion batteries to power traditional hybrid and plug-in electric hybrid cars and trucks for the global auto industry.
With its business for joint venture group Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions - operated along with Saft Groupe SA, based in Paris - JCI is proving that lithium-ion is ready for the market, said Alex Molinaroli, president of JCI's Power Solutions division, based in Milwaukee.
Lithium-ion batteries use plastics as its binder material, in separator films, for housings and as the conduit in cables running throughout the car.
Automakers in North America, Europe and Asia are interested in using the batteries as a replacement for nickel-metal-hydride batteries for hybrids and in future electric vehicles because they hold a charge better and longer. However, battery makers have had to create a more stable system because lithium-ion units are susceptible to overheating.
JCI-Saft has batteries ready for full-time use on the road, Molinaroli said during a Jan. 8 news conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The joint venture has two production lines at its plant in Nersac, France, to make lithium-ion batteries for Daimler AG's new Mercedes S class hybrid sedan and another unnamed European auto. The first Mercedes batteries will be delivered in late January.
``We're ready,'' he said. ``I'm sure that there are other companies that are nearly there as well.''
In China, JCI-Saft will make batteries for a demonstration fleet of vehicle for Shanghai-base SAIC, the largest Chinese automaker.
But at the same time it is bringing future battery technology to China, JCI is also working with China's auto industry and government officials to improve its recycling of existing lead-acid batteries used in nearly every vehicle.
While 95 percent of all batteries are recycled in North America and Europe, with the plastics, chemicals and metals reclaimed, Molinaroli said, the Chinese market lacks the infrastructure to keep up with the massive increase in batteries used in the growing auto industry.
``They're where we were 30 or 40 years ago,'' he said.JCI has been bringing in Chinese executives to provide them with information to kick-start their recycling, he said.