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 recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

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 Ford 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.

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

Wright wants the U.S. to become the leader in Li-ion battery manufacturing. “We have to have manufacturing infrastructure (in the U.S.),” she says. “And we have to do it in Europe. 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.

However, Wright says she is discouraged 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%.”

Separately, Johnson Controls announces 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 and requires less foam than conventional seating.

JCS Ready to Deliver Li-ion Demos