Johnson Controls, Toshiba Team Up on New Start-Stop Automotive Battery

MILWAUKEE (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/TNS) -

Johnson Controls Inc. is teaming up with Toshiba to announce plans to produce a 12-volt lithium titanate battery that will be used to help improve gas mileage in vehicles in the years ahead.

The battery, to be produced starting in 2018, will be shown off at the Detroit auto show next week. The battery is a next-generation version of a start-stop battery system that provides a more affordable alternative to improve fuel economy compared with a full-scale hybrid or electric vehicle.

Johnson Controls has been in discussions with Toshiba about using its lithium titanate chemistry in a start-stop vehicle that will use the lithium battery and a lead-acid starter battery.

The announcement is part of a series of moves aimed at ensuring that Johnson Controls remains a market leader in car batteries. The Glendale, Wisconsin-based company is the world’s leading supplier of both start-stop and conventional lead-acid batteries.

Start-stop vehicles help drivers save on fuel by shutting off the engine when the car is stopped and then restarting when the car needs to move again.

A typical start-stop system can provide a 5 percent boost to a car’s gas mileage. Use of the lithium battery can boost the savings to 8 percent, said Lisa Bahash, vice president of the Johnson Controls power solutions business.

“With an advanced start-stop system, drivers could save up to 8 percent every time they fill up their gas tank, as the batteries enable the engine to shut off more frequently and for longer periods of time,” Bahash said. “This is also a great solution for our customers because the technology allows for greater fuel savings without major changes to the existing powertrain and electrical systems.”

With consumers reluctant to overspend to improve their gas mileage, Johnson Controls believes that start-stop and related technologies are keys to help carmakers comply with fuel-economy standards that target emissions of greenhouse gases.

Those standards are forcing fleets of new vehicles sold around the world — including Europe, North America and China — to get dramatically more miles per gallon than cars sold today.

The new battery will cost hundreds of dollars, but a car buyer would spend thousands extra for a hybrid or electric vehicle.

The market share for hybrids and electric vehicles remains small – less than 3 percent – and plummeting gas prices are taking their toll on sales of fuel-sipping high-mileage vehicles. Sales of hybrids fell in 2014 nationally, as total vehicle sales rose.

The companies say the lithium titanate chemistry recharges quickly, works well in a wide range of temperatures and can be easily integrated into a vehicle’s 12-volt electrical system. Toshiba is a market leader in this technology, deploying it already for a variety of applications including electric buses and energy storage for the power grid.

“Toshiba is pleased to work with Johnson Controls to supply SCiB cells for this application,” Shun Egusa, general manager of Toshiba’s automotive business, said in a statement. “The opportunity to support global automakers with their goal of improving vehicle efficiency is an important part of our strategy and vision.”

Current start-stop systems can consist of one or two batteries. The mileage gain from the lithium battery comes because it can allow the car to be idle for a longer period of time, as well as enable the battery to regenerate more quickly while braking, Bahash said.

“It’s about the size of a box of Kleenex and weighs less than nine pounds,” she said.

The battery would be introduced on a vehicle in Europe, the region where start-stop vehicles are most popular.

Where it will be produced is unclear. Possible locations include Johnson Controls’ factory in Holland, Mich.; Hannover, Germany; or Toshiba in Japan.

The company is also developing its micro-hybrid technology, which uses a 48-volt battery and can improve gas mileage by up to 15 percent. That technology could come to market from 2018 to 2020, Bahash said.