Thursday, September 13, 2007

Powering up hybrids

Johnson Controls, partner to supply batteries to Benz

Posted: Sept. 12, 2007

Johnson Controls and its French joint-venture partner will supply hybrid batteries beginning next year for luxury sedans that Mercedes-Benz unveiled this week in Germany.

Saft, based in Paris, announced Wednesday that the company has been named to produce the batteries for the S-class hybrid, one of seven hybrid vehicles that Mercedes executives rolled out at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

"I am very pleased that the combining of Saft's and Johnson Controls' know-how has led to a first program of this importance," said John Searle, Saft chairman, in a statement.

The batteries will be made at Saft's factory in Nersac, a town in southwestern France.

Johnson Controls-Saft had announced earlier this year that the joint venture had won a contract with a European automaker, but were barred from announcing the customer until now.

Executives at Daimler AG said the company is committed to building more vehicles that release less carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.

Mercedes announced two versions of the hybrid luxury sedans, the S400 due in 2009 that would run on the battery and gasoline, and an S300 version, planned for 2010, that would be a hybrid diesel. The S400 would get 29.8 miles per gallon, while the hybrid diesel would get 43.6 mpg, according to Mercedes-Benz.

That high fuel economy, Mercedes claims, would mean the S300 would emit 30% less carbon dioxide per mile than any luxury sedan in the world.

The gasoline version of the S400 sedan will be the first hybrid available from a German car-maker. It also is believed to be the first using a lithium ion battery, a lighter and more efficient battery than the kind found in hybrids now on the road.

The auto industry is under increasing pressure to demonstrate its ability to make vehicles that burn less gasoline and reduce emissions, and other automakers have been active at the Frankfurt auto show with announcements of clean-diesel, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles thatthey plan to produce in the coming years.

Also at the show, Johnson Controls is showcasing a concept sport utility vehicle that includes a lithium-ion plug-in hybrid battery integrated into the trunk of the vehicle. The battery was developed by the hybrid battery team based at the company's corporate headquarters in Glendale.

The midsize SUV was designed in response to consumer research by Johnson Controls that found that medium-sized SUVs are generally bought by two main groups - professional couples and older couples whose children have left home. As a result, there was little need for the SUV to have a rear seat to accommodate passengers.

"For this reason we set out to make the design of the second row as flexible as possible, to create additional storage space," said Han Hendriks, vice president of industrial design and marketing. The concept features a slimmer seat as well as a rear seat that unfolds only when needed.

Johnson Controls-Saft is racing with other battery developers to develop battery technology for the next generation of fuel-efficient hybrid electric vehicles. Last month, a competitor, A123 Battery Systems, beat out Johnson Controls when it was awarded a development agreement from General Motors Corp. to develop a lithium-ion battery for the highly touted Chevrolet Volt concept car that GM unveiled earlier this year.

At the same time, Daimler's former subsidiary, Chrysler, announced that it would deploy the Johnson Controls-Saft lithium-ion batteries in road tests this fall in California and New York. The batteries will be used on plug-in versions of Dodge Sprinter vans.

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