DETROIT – Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions LLC announces a deal to supply Azure Dynamics Inc. with lithium-ion battery technology for commercial-vehicle applications.

“Our focus needs to go beyond the consumer market,” Mary Ann Wright, CEO of JCS, says at the North American International Auto Show here.

“Commercial transportation in an urban environment is responsible for 25% of total greenhouse-gas emissions, but it only represents 12% of total miles driven.”

Azure claims to be the world leader in bringing together hybrid-electric powertrains and commercial vehicles. CEO Ron Iacobelli says the 5-year pact with JCS, a joint venture of Johnson Controls Inc. and France’s Saft Groupe SA, involves about 20,000 delivery vans and shuttle buses.

Azure modifies completed Ford-brand models for use by customers such as Federal Express Corp. and AT&T Inc. The battery packs it will receive from JCS are compatible for service upgrades on existing vehicles, Azure says.

The JCS facility in Milwaukee, WI, will assemble the complete battery systems, including electronics, electrical and mechanical components, for Azure.

During a media scrum, Wright discusses her desire for the U.S. to become the market leader in Li-ion battery manufacturing.

“We have to have manufacturing infrastructure (in the U.S.),” she says. “That is absolutely clear. And we have to do it in Europe, as well. And it will happen in China, whether (we) do it or not.”

Wright, the former chief engineer for the Ford Escape Hybrid, says JCS has to “do business where our customers are,” when questioned regarding the JV’s Li-ion battery-making facility in France.

Citing the young, talented engineers the JV is recruiting from domestic universities, Wright says she is confident the U.S. can achieve leadership in Li-ion and other battery technologies.

JCS has “some really, really bright talent,” she says. “We’ve actually recruited about 17 new chemists and scientists. I’m really encouraged to see the U.S. universities transitioning and evolving their curriculums to match the demands (of new technologies).”

However, Wright says she is discouraged by the fact not enough young people in the U.S. are choosing engineering careers.

“We fall way behind Japan and China, where they graduate 50% of their undergrads with technical degrees, vs. our 20%.”

Innovative technologies highlighted at this year’s Detroit auto show are an important step in establishing the U.S. as a technology and manufacturing leader, Wright says, noting federal assistance also is necessary.

“We feel the government is going to have to help us stimulate (advanced technology) demand, because in (the) absence of environmental policy making, (less-expensive) gas results in people reverting to buying patterns that aren’t really conducive to hybrids.”

JCS is in contact with President-elect Obama’s transition team and legislators around the country with the goal of creating “sustained demand” for hybrids.

Wright says JCS desires grants and loans for expanding manufacturing of advanced batteries, as well as for research and development.

“As volumes are starting to ramp up with our customers, that’s going to be our biggest struggle: (paying for the capacity increases),” she says.

JCS already was awarded a commercialization contract for plug-in hybrids from the Dept. of Energy and the United States Advanced Battery Consortium.

Separately, Johnson Controls announces here it will introduce more environmentally friendly, sustainable seating systems.

With JCI’s Synergy Seat, the supplier has reduced mass from 20%-27% compared with current seating systems. An all-steel structure boasts a 32% lighter weight, while an aluminum-steel version, which JCI will promote for hybrids, is up to 40% lighter.

Synergy Seat is production-ready, nearly 100% recyclable, requires less foam than conventional seating “and offers a high level of occupant comfort,” JCI says.

JCI also says it will begin making a portion of its seat foam out of naturally derived materials indigenous to regions where the vehicles bearing its seats will be sold.

For instance, in Europe, JCI will employ natural-oil polyols that are derived from canola and castor oil, replacing some petroleum-based polyurethane.

JCI uses soy oil for seat foam in North America for about 11 different vehicle platforms.

JCI also reveals here it is the supplier of the SmartGauge with EcoGuide, the instrument cluster used in the new ’10 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrid sedans.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com