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Johnson Controls bets big on stop-start systems

MILWAUKEE -- Joe Walicki is betting $780 million that Tesla's high-tech, electric-vehicle battery gigafactory in Nevada does not represent the future of the auto battery business.

That's how much Johnson Controls Inc. is spending to expand its global production of absorbent glass mat batteries, an improved lead-acid battery optimized for vehicles with stop-start systems.

While AGM batteries cost twice as much as conventional lead-acid batteries, they are durable enough to restart a vehicle's engine dozens of times a day as it idles in traffic and at red lights.

Walicki, 51, president of Johnson Controls' worldwide battery division, is betting the future of his company -- the world's top producer of automotive batteries -- on two assumptions.

First, automakers will meet tougher corporate average fuel economy standards by upgrading their internal combustion engines, rather than by switching en masse to electric cars. Second, stop-start systems will become ubiquitous as automakers improve fuel economy step by step.

Walicki spelled out his business strategy during a June 13 interview here with Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick.

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