Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions LLC is revving up to supply advanced batteries to Chinese auto makers SAIC Motor Corp. Ltd. and Chery Automobile Co. Ltd.

JCS will supply lithium-ion batteries to SAIC early this year for a demonstration fleet of “new-energy” vehicles, the supplier says.

“SAIC is very serious in developing new-energy vehicles for the Chinese market and advanced-battery technologies will provide significant help for us,” says Lee Feng, SAIC's director of energy systems, in a statement.

Chery will receive nickel-metal hydride batteries for use in its new AF ISG hybrid vehicle, which is slated to launch in China in December.

Mary Ann Wright, JCS vice president and general manager-hybrid systems who is leading the battery-making joint venture, says both contracts provide China with energy solutions currently unavailable to China.

“From a technical standpoint, I think there's a lot of activity going on inside China; there's a lot of desire,” she tells Ward's at the Detroit auto show.

“That's why we're spending a lot of time building capability in China, because we have it and they want to get to market quick, and they don't have it internally.”

Wright says Chinese producers of batteries for cell phones and other consumer electronics lack the expertise to develop automotive systems.

JCS will produce the Li-ion batteries at its Milwaukee, WI, facility, while the NiMH batteries will be manufactured in France, with development work carried out in the U.S.

Integration of the systems will take place in China, the supplier says, noting it also has a battery system engineering, testing and integration center in Hanover, Germany.

In addition to the two China contracts, JCS soon will begin low-volume production of Li-ion batteries for a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class hybrid. The company also will supply Li-ion batteries for a second, unnamed European auto maker.

“The S-Class will be in production very soon and is the first car available to consumers with Li-ion technology,” says JCS' Alex Molinaroli, president-power solutions.

Although JCS is making Li-ion batteries initially for hybrid-electric-vehicle use, batteries for larger applications, such as plug-in hybrids, are production feasible, as well, despite reports to the contrary, he says. Problems inherent to Li-ion batteries, such as durability and overheating issues, can be overcome.

Critics of Li-ion batteries now are starting to back off and, instead, talk about applications, Molinarolie tells Ward's, noting that with the right control systems, Li-ion issues are correctable.

“Any time you have that kind of power and energy delivered from a product, those are inherent problems, so what we look at is a systems approach,” he says.

“Everything we've done around our packaging, thermal management, battery management systems, some of the components inside and production capability is up to the standards required by the auto industry.”

While Molinaroli predicts Li-ion battery restrictions will be a non-issue this time next year, their high cost will remain an issue, he says. However, as production ramps up, the cost will come down.