Multi-Battery Systems and Clarios’ Future

September 3, 2019 | Last May, Johnson Controls Power Solutions relaunched as Clarios after the Power Solutions division of Johnson Controls was acquired by Brookfield Business Partners. Now, several months later, Craig Rigby, Vice President Technology, Clarios, says the company is better positioned than ever to move its legacy forward.

“It’s been really exciting in the sense that we see a commitment to the future with Brookfield. We’re going to continue doing the things that have made us great: supporting our customers, making quality batteries, pushing the boundaries of the technology, and making sure we’re positioned as a partner for our customers in the future,” Rigby said.

On behalf of Battery Power Online, Craig Wohlers spoke with Rigby about the company’s future and the role of lead acid batteries in multi-battery systems, particularly 12-volt batteries that Rigby sees as critical.

Battery Power Online: It has been about three months since Clarios launched as a standalone company. Can you talk a little bit about what has changed and what’s Clarios’ strategic position like?

Craig Rigby: It’s been an interesting three months, and it’s been a great transition. We have a strong legacy as Johnson Controls Power Solutions – a legacy of which we are really proud; we’re a world class manufacturer of automotive batteries. Our results, customer base and product portfolio speaks for itself. Brookfield Business Partners saw what that legacy could do going forward.  The growth potential to build on [the Johnson Controls Power Solutions] foundation and really take it to another level is, I think, why they decided to make that investment. It’s been really exciting in the sense that we see a commitment to that future with Brookfield. We’re going to continue doing the things that have made us great: supporting our customers, making quality batteries, continuing to push the boundaries of the technology, and making sure we’re positioned as a partner for our customers in the future.

How do you see the current growth trajectory for Clarios versus where you were on the Johnson Controls side? How do you see the growth strategy in general for Clarios?

There’s obviously a commitment to continuing to produce and provide a product that has made us successful. I think there’s a commitment to continuing, as well, to develop new products that leverage our expertise in battery technologies, particularly low voltage and in lead acid. That technology isn’t maxed out; there actually continues to be room to develop and enhance the performance and the value it can bring. I think Brookfield recognizes that potential, and they’re committed to supporting us as we develop and bring those products to market.

In looking at lead acid batteries, how do you see the electrification strategies changing the role of lead acid batteries? Are you seeing growth on that side?

Well, I think there are two paths running concurrently. The one that’s been going for the past 10 years—and so it’s not particularly news, but I think it is still very relevant— is the rise of low voltage electrification with respect to start-stop. The vast majority of vehicles produced in Europe today are equipped with start-stop technology. We’re seeing that same sort of adoption rate now coming up in China and really starting as well here in North America. The continuing rise of start-stop, as we all know, is a really valuable contribution to the electrification strategy for most automakers and it means the need for improved total batteries and specifically AGM technology.

The second part of that, which I think runs in parallel, is the emergence of other electrification strategies which have been around for a while. I’ve seen more adoption of high voltage electrification like hybrids, or now full eV, but even more interesting is the role of mild hybrids using 48 volt. Some of the ways we viewed start-stop 12 years ago, as a good value for consumers and a good value for automakers, is what I think makes the next opportunity 48 volt.

It does mean some interesting challenges for the way 12-volt batteries and particularly lead acid batteries are going to be used. Our point of view on that has been, in the case with low voltage electrification, 48 volt, you can’t treat those batteries as separate, independent entities. The fact is they’re working together, one supporting a 48-volt network, the other supporting a 12-volt network.  They interact and share the functions and responsibilities in the vehicle in terms of providing power. It does change the way we view the role of the 12-volt battery. In some cases it still has to start the engine and some cases it won’t, but there are still fundamental responsibilities put on the 12-volt battery that are critical. So for us it’s a real interesting opportunity to work with our customers on a relatively new vehicle application and anticipate where they’re going to need those batteries to be, and how they’re going to have them perform in the next decade.

Do you see lead acid market share remaining stable over the next decade? Lots of people want to talk about other chemistries infringing in on that. How do you guys see it?

Our perspective as we look into the applications I just mentioned—generally we’re calling those multi-battery system applications, where you’re taking a 48-volt battery or a high voltage battery, and pairing it with a 12-volt battery—the total network still remains in those vehicles. And based on our conversations, we don’t see that changing. The belief is that even as the share of market increases for 48 volt or high voltage applications, there still remains the 12-volt battery to secure the 12-volt network and to be the last backstop for critical power in the vehicle, especially as it relates to emergency situations.

The requirements for that application really suits lead acid quite well. The needs are reliable, stable power. Lead acid is a proven technology where the focus is really on providing power, providing some level of cycling, probably not as aggressive as start-stop, but it really does play into the simplicity and the robustness that we see with lead acid technology. We’re pretty strong on the role of lead acid 12-volt batteries for the future, even with the emergent electrification applications.