TOKYO – Auto supplier Johnson Controls Inc. will team with Japanese electronics maker Hitachi Ltd. to develop lithium ion batteries for electric drivetrains, the companies said Monday.
The two companies will also explore collaboration in advanced energy storage technologies in other applications beside cars, the companies said in a joint release. The study will encompass r&d, procurement, production, sales and marketing of the batteries.
The companies did not give additional details. The announcement came after Japan's Nikkei business daily reported that the companies were in talks. The Nikkei said JCI and Hitachi aim to finalize details of the proposed cooperation before the end of the year.
Hitachi, which will supply General Motors Co. with lithium ion battery packs, is trailing domestic rivals such as Sanyo Electric Co., GS Yuasa Corp. and Panasonic EV Energy Co. in the race to manufacture batteries for hybrid and electric cars. Partnering with JCI, the world's largest manufacturer of automotive batteries, might give Hitachi broader access to more customers.
JCIs was among the companies given federal grants last year to develop electric vehicles and advanced batteries in the United States. It won $299 million.
Lithium ion batteries are seen as key to making more practical hybrid and electric vehicles because they are lighter and more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride batteries currently used.
Hitachi's lithium ion batteries have mostly gone into hybrid trucks made by Isuzu or Mitsubishi. But it starts manufacturing lithium ion batteries for GM by the end of the year.
The Japanese company has a factory north of Tokyo with annual capacity to make 4.2 million lithium ion battery cells a year, or about 3,500 car's worth of battery packs a month.
Many Japanese carmakers have tried to bring battery making in house by forming joint ventures with electronics companies. Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. have followed this model, teaming with such companies as NEC Corp., Panasonic and GS Yuasa.
Yoshito Tsunoda, president of Hitachi's battery division, told Bloomberg News last month that the battery unit will likely post losses for at least three years amid weaker than expected demand from carmakers and high costs to start up the business.