Odyne helps Johnson Controls move into hybrid truck market

Glendale-based Johnson Controls Inc. is expanding its role in the automotive battery market through a partnership with Waukesha-based hybrid technology manufacturer Odyne Systems LLC.

With the partnership, Odyne has designated Johnson Controls as its preferred supplier of lithium-ion batteries for its plug-in hybrid drive systems for medium and heavy duty trucks, said Ray Shemanski, vice president and general manager of advanced battery systems for Johnson Controls.

“This is an industry that is really in its infancy right now,” Shemanski said. “We’re looking for partners that are also leaders in their segment of the business. We’re making these kinds of investments in order to accelerate the development of the battery business.”

Johnson Controls’ lithium-ion batteries have been used commercially in consumer vehicles, but the technology hasn’t caught on as quickly as it expected, Shemanski said. For that reason, the company has started focusing on business fleet vehicles, such as the bucket trucks used by utility companies.

“Our strategy is we sit down and look at where the opportunities are,” he said. “We see higher volumes coming from the electrification of those fleets, and that’s what attracted us to Odyne.”

It’s a disparate pairing of companies. Odyne, founded in 2009, has about 20 employees at its 100,000-square-foot Waukesha facility. Johnson Controls has 154,000 employees globally and made 120 million batteries in 2010.

Lithium-ion batteries are crucial to reducing fuel consumption for vehicles, and Odyne has focused on heavy duty trucks because they guzzle so much gas, said Joe Dalum, president of Odyne Systems.

“There are other companies that focus on it, but we are one of the primary leaders in the plug-in hybrid market for medium and heavy duty trucks,” Dalum said. “The plug-in market uses large battery systems and Johnson Controls has products that are an excellent fit for that type of application.”

Odyne’s technology uses an electric propulsion motor and lithium-ion battery system to reduce the fuel consumption of trucks. A utility truck will use up to 50 percent less fuel, between driving the vehicle and using it at job sites, by using the extended engine-off power solution, he said.

“It will be idling in many cases for hours at a time at a job site without our system,” Dalum said.

Odyne chose to work with Johnson Controls because it has the latest lithium-ion battery systems, and has an excellent reputation in the industry, he said.

“The battery systems that they’re providing are much lower weight than the older technology; they have longer expected life than older technology systems,” Dalum said.

In August, Odyne was awarded a $2.9 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy and South Coast Air Quality Management District to further develop its hybrid technology in a fleet of trucks in California.

Odyne will install its hybrid power systems in seven bucket and underground utility trucks to evaluate and demonstrate its advantages.

The government contract is a major reason Odyne partnered with – and attracted the attention of – Johnson Controls, a higher volume, higher technology lithium-ion battery producer than it had been working with.

“The Department of Energy realizes that there’s a much greater benefit using the new technology,” Dalum said.

The companies plan to work together long-term to develop more advanced lithium-ion technologies, Dalum and Shemanski said.

Johnson Controls ended its five-year lithium-ion joint venture with French firm Saft in September, acquiring Saft’s share of the business for $145 million.

Shemanski said the Odyne partnership was not related to the end of the Saft venture.

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