Lisa J Bahash, MaryAnn Wright, Craig Rigby

Lisa J Bahash, MaryAnn Wright, Craig Rigby

Continuing just-auto's series of interviews with tier one component suppliers at the 2015 IAA, Matthew Beecham caught-up with Lisa J Bahash, Group Vice President and General Manager, Original Equipment, MaryAnn Wright, Vice President Engineering & Product Development, and Craig W Rigby, Advanced Market & Tech Strategist, Original Equipment, all Johnson Controls Power Solutions.

Could you tell us about some of the technologies that Johnson Controls Power Solutions is highlighting this year here at the IAA and your message?

Lisa Bahash: Our main message is that start-stop and advanced start-stop technologies enable us and our automotive partners to meet the regulations well into the 2020 time frame. There is quite a bit of penetration of start-stop here in Europe already; 65 percent of the market today and we expect that to go to 85 percent by 2020. Of course, that is continuing to grow in China and the US. Today, both the US and China are at around five percent. By 2020, we expect that to be at 40 percent for both.

Another part of the story is that we are showing for the first time in Germany our 12 volt lithium-ion battery paired with an AGM battery. This combination can achieve up to eight percent fuel economy.

Between start-stop and advanced start-stop, we have got a long runway before we need higher levels of electrification.

Is there an appetite for start-stop in other BRIC countries?

Lisa - There will be an appetite for start-stop as they also have to meet requirements. As European and US branded vehicles go into those regions, it will carry forth those technologies.

Any other growth markets for start-stop applications?

Lisa - Asia in general. China will, for sure, be the largest market place for the automotive industries. You can expect growth in all of the other Asian countries to follow.

How do you set about making lighter batteries?

Lisa - We do continuous improvement of our batteries, whether it is lead acid or future lithium-ion products whereby we are constantly looking to take weight out. It's about making the processing more efficient in general.

Any examples?

MaryAnn Wright - It is not just materials but we are also doing significant work on miniaturising our electronics. For example, our first generation low voltage advanced start-stop technology had a PCB board has shrunk to just 25% of its original size in just 18 months. So it is not just about the materials we are using to achieve a lightweight product but really about optimisation of not only the energy stored but paired in the environment for the powertrain. Our intention is that the advanced batteries will weigh half that of a traditional battery.

That sounds like a significant PCB shrinkage in a relatively short period ...

MaryAnn - That is the pace that this technology is moving at. Because we have such a footprint and scale to leverage from our lead-acid then [we know that] the customer already has package space for that lead-acid battery. So our intention is to package anything we do in the advanced battery space in a similar package environment so that they do not have to tear into their powertrains or body structures. That helps them carry forward their existing legacy assets as well as drive the cost down.

Lisa - If you think about the lead-acid and lithium-ion space together, we are uniquely positioned and advantaged to optimise them.

In terms of reducing the product that you mentioned there, companies sometimes form technology partnerships in order to get the help they need from specialists, universities, etc.

MaryAnn - We have significant relationships with our national labs in the US and Europe. We also partner with the top technical schools in the US. We have also partnered with the powertrain experts, AVL. We have done that very thoughtfully to take the expertise that we have and extend it into the powertrain so that we can offer our customers technical solutions that optimise the energy storage into the powertrain environment.

We understand that JCI is to build a new automotive battery manufacturing facility in the city of Shenyang in northeastern China. The plant will open in 2018 and make batteries for start-stop cars. Could you comment any further on this plant?

Lisa - It is acknowledged that China will be the largest marketplace for automotive. So we have plans to invest and Shenyang is just another example of that. It will be a US$200 million investment state-of the-art facility. It will have roughly six million units of capacity, primarily AGM but obviously flooded batteries continue to be a mainstay in the industry as well. This will mark our third manufacturing facility in China.

In the US, we understand that JCI is increasing its existing AGM battery capacity in its Toledo, Ohio plant. Could you add a little more colour on the reasons for this investment, too?

Lisa - In general, we talked about start-stop technology taking us a long way into the future. It is going to grow worldwide. So our Toledo facility will be our main production facility. We will be investing a total of US$130 million as that market grows. Approximately, five percent of the [worldwide] market is start-stop and that should increase to 40 percent by 2020. So at a minimum, we will invest in Toledo but will look to increase that beyond as the market itself grows.

I guess all of this demand for start-stop clearly impacts on the aftermarket, too?

Lisa - We know that market very well as we have a strong aftermarket business. Start-stop and AGM will become part of that market as they become replaced. Roughly, three to four replacements per vehicle are expected during the lifetime of a car.

There was a time when a motorist could replace a car battery quite simply but I gather that procedure is no longer quite so straightforward, moving the market from DIY to Do It For Me. Is that correct?

Lisa - It is a mixture, for sure. We have aftermarket programmes that help technicians understand how to root cause, diagnose and make that change. And, of course, we supply the product needed to do that whether that is a direct battery replacement or upgrade. In Europe, Varta is a strong brand established in 1887.

With such a dependency on low carbon vehicle technology, does it concern you that EV sales are sluggish in some markets?

Lisa - It doesn't concern us. We believe that there will be a place for electric vehicles, plug-ins, hybrids, etc. But that time is going to continually stretch out as we see improvements in start-stop and the start-stop now with the 12 volt lithium-ion battery. And, of course, we have got a lot of runway in the vehicles themselves, whether it is lightweighting, low resistance, rolling tyres or powertrain improvements. So we have got a lot of improvements to be made before we need the higher end electrification.

What are your thoughts on how fast the hybrid and electric commercial vehicle market could grow in North America?

Craig W Rigby - To distinguish between passenger cars and commercial vehicles is a very important question. The value equation for commercial vehicles is probably better in terms of moving to some of those technologies because the duty cycle may take advantage of the capability of an electric powertrain more effectively as well as the owners of those vehicles are driven by the operating costs. They are very financially driven; technologies for those vehicles are still expensive. What we see happening today is fleet owners testing out those technologies in order to understand the value equation. But we still do not see a mass movement in that segment toward a higher level of electrification. So it is a different value equation but a lot of the same challenges.

Do you think that there is still a range anxiety amongst potential consumers of EVs?

Craig - Yes, that is still there. People need to have the confidence that when they leave home that they will be able to get where they need to go. Also, how much planning they need to do in order to get to their destination is definitely kept in mind. The other aspect is that, currently EV re-charging prospect takes longer compared to fuelling an ICE.

Lisa - There is also an economic equation in that hybrids and EVs are still very expensive. Then you need the infrastructure to support it, of course. But we can do a lot right now with our advanced start-stop system. But if you consider the 48 volt - which we also have here at IAA on display - then you are talking about much less cost to have a lot of impact versus the higher end electrification.

MaryAnn - A segment that we are really interested in today is low voltage, i.e. everything below 60 volts. When you think about all the hybrids - the mild hybrid, full hybrid and electric vehicles - a lot of the cost that is going into that system has nothing to do with delivering range, fuel economy, launch assistance, torque or anything. It is high voltage isolation, multi-point failure redundancies, packaging high voltage wiring or things that add cost, weight, package but do not bring fuel economy and emissions or even vehicle level performance. We have been doing a lot of work to address the question: What is the most efficient way to meet the regulations? If you look at advanced start-stop 48 volts then you can get well into 2021 and stay in that low voltage space and allow OEMs to [still] have a lot of flexibility about how they achieve those regulations. So I think that there is this whole new space that we went from the ICE to a full hybrid or EV and we are seeing a whole lot of non-exotic technologies that we can really help our customers achieve those requirements.

In what ways can JCI support the driverless car?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE light vehicle OE batteries market research service

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