Johnson Controls-Saft

January 23, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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HOLLAND — 2009 revealed in dramatic fashion that the road ahead for the U.S. auto industry is going to be profoundly different, compared to its first 100-plus years of dominating the world market with large petroleum-fed vehicles that pollute the air. Helping lead the industry in its new direction is the Johnson Controls-Saft plant in Holland.

HOLLAND — 2009 revealed in dramatic fashion that the road ahead for the U.S. auto industry is going to be profoundly different, compared to its first 100-plus years of dominating the world market with large petroleum-fed vehicles that pollute the air. Helping lead the industry in its new direction is the Johnson Controls-Saft plant in Holland.

Johnson Controls Inc., a major automotive parts supplier and the world's largest producer of lead-acid batteries for light cars and trucks, has had a presence in Holland since it acquired the Prince Corp. auto parts manufacturing business in 1996.

In August 2009, JCI achieved another unique "largest" title: recipient of the largest American Recovery & Reinvestment Act grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, to stimulate and accelerate the manufacturing of electric vehicles, batteries and components in America.

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and dozens of other auto suppliers also received ARRA grants through DOE, but the matching grant of $299.2 million for setting up the JCI Meadowbrook plant for production of hybrid and all-electric vehicle batteries was the largest — $50 million more than the second largest matching grant.

Johnson Controls and Saft, its joint venture partner, are already producing lithium-ion battery cells — the latest in lightweight and long-lasting battery technology — at Saft's plant in France.

In December, Johnson Controls-Saft announced that it had been chosen as the lithium-ion battery supplier for Azure Dynamic's Force Drive propulsion system on the Ford Transit Connect Battery Electric Vehicle. The small, all-electric commercial van will be in production beginning in late 2010.

In addition to its work with Azure, Johnson Controls-Saft is producing batteries for the Mercedes S-Class hybrid, currently on sale in Europe and the United States. The joint venture also will supply the lithium-ion hybrid batteries for the BMW 7-Series ActiveHybrid available in 2010, and for Ford's first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle available in 2012.

The Meadowbrook plant will begin assembly of battery packs for the new breed of vehicles, incorporating the JC-Saft lithium-ion cells made in France. Soon, however, those cells also will be manufactured in the Meadowbrook plant. Meadowbrook plant manager Elizabeth Rolinski said she expects the plant to employ 300 within three or four years, and hopefully many more as the business grows.

"Johnson Controls-Saft is committed to the commercialization of hybrid and electric vehicles," said Ray Shemanski, who leads the Johnson Controls-Saft joint venture and is vice president and general manager of Hybrid Systems for Johnson Controls.

"We are proud to be chosen for the BEV and we look forward to strengthening our partnership with both Azure and Ford Motor Co. to advance these leading-edge technologies. This partnership is underscored by our investment of more than $600 million in manufacturing and infrastructure development."

Commercial transportation in an urban environment — which the Transit Connect BEV is designed for — accounts for 12 percent of total miles driven, yet is responsible for 25 percent of total greenhouse emissions, according to JCI. The new Ford Transit Connect has a targeted range of 80 miles on all-electric power, and is the first of four electric vehicles Ford plans to build in its global commercial vehicle program.

Founded in 1885, Milwaukee-based JCI has 133,000 employees worldwide and net sales of $28.5 billion in its last fiscal year. It produces about 110 million lead-acid vehicle batteries a year, and — along with its various automotive interior product lines — has components installed in about 200 million vehicles. JCI also produces energy controls systems for buildings.

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