JCI Looks to Batteries and Seats to Help Promote Fuel Savings
James D. Sawyer
There were many areas Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI; Milwaukee) focused on during its Automotive Day October 15 at its facility in Plymouth, MI, but the two that stood out most can be summed up as electric and chairs.
A large diversified company (workforce: 168,000) with a footprint in more than 150 countries, JCI supplies two-thirds of the lead-acid batteries consumed by automakers and the aftermarket. Also, it was the first company to produce lithium-ion batteries for mass production hybrid vehicles. During Automotive Day Brian Kessler, JCI vice president and president of the Power Solutions business unit, provided details about two other types of batteries expected to play a large role in cars.
The absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery is expected to have a major impact on start-stop vehicles that are just beginning to reach the market. According to Kessler, they can improve a vehicle’s fuel economy by as much as 8%. Instead of having a compartment flooded with acid that reacts with lead plates to create electricity, AGM batteries have absorbent mats that act much like sponges to hold the acid. Mats and lead plates are tightly and alternately packed in a case much the same shape and size of a traditional car battery. The mat allows the electrolyte and the lead plates to stay in optimal contact for maximum output and longevity.
While vehicles with start-stop systems are just starting to appear in the US (the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu are notable examples) they are now common in Europe. “By 2018 80% of the new cars sold in Europe will have start-stop systems,” said Kessler.
A dual-voltage electrical system for so-called micro hybrids is the other technology Kessler talked about. First revealed a month earlier at the Frankfurt Motor Show, this technology links a 12-V lead-acid battery to a 48-V li-ion battery through a voltage bridge. The 12-V battery handles exterior and interior lights, ignition, audio/entertainment systems and other electronic modules on the vehicle. Meanwhile, the 48-V system handles the A/C compressor, regenerative braking and active chassis and safety systems. “It is capable of increasing fuel economy by 8—15%,” said Kessler, “and could drop battery costs [for hybrid vehicles] from thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars.”
It would also weigh far less than current li-ion battery packs for hybrid vehicles, take up less space and eliminate the need for special battery cooling systems used on hybrids today, he added.
Chairs—or more properly, seats—are also doing their bit to make cars more fuel efficient.
Han Hendriks, vice president, Advanced Product Development, Electronics and Interiors, said that among the 16 innovations for automotive interiors introduced this year by JCI is Compression Hybrid Molding (CHyM), a lightweight natural fiber substrate technology. It weighs 39% less than ABS thermoplastic, a material commonly used in automotive interiors. Hendriks expects that the next generation of CHyM will weigh only about half as much.
Hendriks also mentioned that JCI has launched a project called Interior Vision 2025. While the purpose of the program is to explore the impact of such things as globalization, urbanization and the impact of China’s taste in luxury cars as it comes to dominant sales in that segment, one of the more important aspects is to investigate making seats thinner as well as lighter. Thinner seats, said Hendriks, would allow automakers to provide more room in a car or, conversely, provide the same amount of room for occupants in a car with a smaller footprint.
In addition, said Beda Bolzenius, JCI vice president and president of Automotive Seating, the company is looking for ways to use materials to provide the same—or even better—level of safety in these new, thinner seats as is available in the seats of today. JCI’s Recaro unit, for example, is combining metal with carbon fiber in some to its sport seat platforms for performance cars.
“We are also looking at using high-strength steels in seats as a way to provide safety in vehicles that are smaller and lighter,” he said. “There is still a lot of room in steel variants for it to be viable in seats.”