OEM Battery Trends: How the Latest Technologies Affect Battery Sales and Service

May 18, 2018

While the latest high-tech amenities are adding numerous safety, comfort and convenience benefits to a vehicle, they also are creating more battery-related issues for vehicle owners.

J.D. Power identified the trend in its 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study. In a summary of its findings, the global consumer research company stated: “New to the top 10 list of problems reported in 2017 is battery failure. In fact, 44% more owners report a battery failure this year than in 2016. Batteries are the most frequently replaced component not related to normal wear and tear in three-year-old vehicles at 6.1% — up 1.3 percentage points from 2016.”The increase in battery-related complaints is continuing in 2018, according to Jason Searl of Johnson Controls International plc. Battery performance is a leading source of consumer dissatisfaction with vehicles, and it has been increasing each year as vehicles become more complex.

“A shop owner can offer consumers more value by helping them choose the right battery technology for the vehicle they drive, how they drive it, and where they drive it,” says Searl, who is vice president, start-stop battery and products for Johnson Controls’ Power Solutions division.

Everything from the geographic area in which the vehicle operates to the aftermarket gadgets a consumer adds to a vehicle affects the performance of the battery installed by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

Searl is one of several experts who shared their perspectives on what the latest developments in battery technologies mean for independent shops. The others are John Munsell, product manager for General Motor Corp.’s ACDelco brand, and Hayley Horn, consumer insights manager for Interstate Batteries Inc.

MTD: What is coming down the pipeline for battery technology from the OEs in the next 18 months or so?

Munsell, ACDelco: At ACDelco, we believe that today’s battery technologies — flooded lead acid and absorbed glass mat (AGM) — are going to dominate the market for a long time. But that doesn’t mean change in the aftermarket battery business isn’t happening at a rapid pace.

We’re working very hard to shift the emphasis away from cold cranking amps to a more balanced approach that includes reserve capacity. Reserve capacity is important today, and it’s going to be critical in the future. That’s because automakers are making it easy for consumers to plug more and more mobile devices into their cars, trucks and crossovers and use them even when the vehicle is off.

For example, when Chevrolet redesigned its Traverse crossover for the 2018 model year, it included USB ports in all three rows of seating on some models, as well as wireless charging and a built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot that stays active for several minutes after the ignition is turned off.  The 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 will go even further, with some models offering a total of six USB ports.

Horn, Interstate Batteries: Battery testing technology is getting an upgrade based on time demands of technicians; they need a quicker tester to handle accelerated bay volume. There has been a decline in number of bays in the aftermarket, and an increase in vehicles on the road. In 2000 there were 167 cars per bay in the U.S., now there are approximately 228 cars per bay, which increases bay volume.

Searl, Johnson Controls: The biggest thing for shop owners in terms of the next 18 months and even the next three years will be vehicles with increased electrical demand that enable more comfort, safety and efficiency, such as start-stop technology. 

Today’s vehicles have more than 150 electrical devices, compared to 20 devices 20 years ago. That means more capable battery technology is needed to serve these more demanding applications. The use of AGM is going to be one of the primary technologies. AGM technology provides the most reliable, durable and safe performance for today’s vehicles.

MTD: When can store owners expect to see cars with new or next-generation battery technologies in their bays?

Munsell, ACDelco: ACDelco offers, as part of its expanding product portfolio, some of the highest reserve capacity batteries in the market, including both flooded lead acid and AGM designs.

We combine OE requirements for cold cranking amps with as much reserve capacity as possible to meet the increasing electrical loads of modern vehicles. The replacement battery you choose for a customer’s vehicle should be guided by original equipment specifications. For example, vehicles using start-stop technology to reduce fuel consumption typically require an AGM battery.

Horn, Interstate Batteries: AGM and EFBs are still projected to be 58% of new vehicles in North America in 2024. That means the start-stop technology is 2% to 4% of the cars on the road, but shops in areas with upper middle class residents with fully loaded SUVs and higher end cars will see more of these vehicles first. 

Searl, Johnson Controls: Shop owners can expect to see vehicles with next-generation AGM technology now.  It will continue to increase as we see the full-scale deployment of start-stop technology in vehicles over the next three years by all manufacturers.  It’s already mainstream in Europe, and it will approach maturity by 2020 for vehicles deployed in the U.S.A. The majority of cars worldwide will be start-stop. In the U.S. it will be the dominant technology in the 40% to 50% range. The rest of the vehicle technologies will be split between SLI (starting, lighting and ignition), microhybrid, hybrid and EV (electric vehicle).

MTD: What opportunities will the new and next-generation technologies offer to independent tire dealers?

Munsell, ACDelco: The biggest immediate opportunity for independent shops is driven by battery testing, not new battery technology. Thanks to low viscosity oils, gear reduction starter motors, direct fuel injection and electronic spark control, new vehicles are much easier to start than older models. They may only crank for three seconds or less before starting, so customers with a weak battery may not experience a slow crank condition. We encourage shops to test battery conductance on every vehicle that comes their way because skipping this easy step can leave some customers at risk of needing a tow or a jump start down the road.Horn, Interstate Batteries: There is a shortage of mechanics, and training can be a challenge to shops. Some of the newer diagnostics and testing technology can help. New products with a better user experience that were designed for the unique conditions of a garage leave less room for errors with updates like VIN (vehicle identification number) scanning versus entering data manually.

Searl, Johnson Controls: For an independent shop, more complicated systems mean there are going to be less people doing it themselves and more opportunity for installation by more experienced technicians. We also believe next-generation battery management systems are trending towards self-reset. We’re still learning about how the OEs are doing it, but it’s going to be a blend of reset and self-reset. That’s a little simpler for the shop and may seem simpler for the do-it-yourselfer. But remember, the battery is still buried within the vehicle and difficult to get at, so we see a lot of opportunities for shops to address these more challenging replacements.

MTD: How can dealerships prepare for new technologies? Are there any challenges to servicing?

Munsell, ACDelco: When it comes to battery service, education and training are the keys to customer satisfaction because selecting the wrong battery can be costly. For example, AGM batteries are increasingly popular but they are not the answer for all applications. Replacing an AGM battery with a flooded lead acid battery in a vehicle with start-stop technology could lead to battery failure in just four to six months. That’s because the regulated voltage control in vehicles with stop-start is calibrated to the lower charging requirements of AGM batteries. 

Along the same lines, using an AGM battery in a vehicle that has regulated voltage control calibrated for a flooded lead acid battery will lead to overcharging. In addition, an AGM battery that’s exposed to excessive underhood heat could become overcharged.

ACDelco offers a wide range of instructor-led classes, seminars and online classes including battery inspection and maintenance, charging and starting systems, testing and diagnosing, product training, and electrical power management. For a complete list of classes, visit the ACDelco website. 

Horn, Interstate Batteries: There are definitely challenges to servicing new vehicles, some newer vehicles have more than 100 ECUs (engine control units) and can require more time for a simple battery install.  Also, some manufacturers put batteries in hard to find places, such as under a seat or in the trunk. That can tie up a bay longer, and may surprise customers who expect a battery install to take 20 minutes or less.  We provide guides on hard-to-install batteries on our website for our dealers, and we can help make sure you have the right assortment of batteries in your shop for your area so you have the right battery on hand.Searl, Johnson Controls: Number one is to be sure you have an updated battery tester. The other piece is having the proper chargers for AGM batteries. Do not use a charger that’s 40 years old; modern chargers accommodate AGM batteries without any issues. They’re not expensive and they have been built to address the needs of AGM batteries. When a reset is required, have the right device to reset the battery management system. With the right tools, servicing these technologies is easily done by the shop technician.

MTD: Car makers add safety, environmental and entertainment features that draw more power. What does that mean for consumers in terms of the battery life of their vehicles? How can dealers respond to consumers?

Munsell, ACDelco: It is critical for batteries to be able to power accessories and start a car.  That’s why shops installing a replacement battery should always replace “like with like.” It will give the shop and the customer the confidence that they’re meeting OEM requirements for cold cranking amps (a battery’s ability to start an engine in cold weather) and enough reserve capacity to optimize battery life.

Horn, Interstate Batteries: It’s not just the car makers adding safety features.  The average age of vehicles is steadily climbing, which means the aftermarket has solutions for safety features, like backup cameras and blind spot warning systems.  Also, the consumers themselves charge cell phones and other devices.  What this means is more drain that wasn’t expected on the OEM battery.  With more aftermarket products and consumer products, there is an increase in load on the electrical system, including the alternator and battery, and shortened battery life. 

Searl, Johnson Controls: The key thing for the shop owner is to understand the vehicle the person is using, how they’re driving their vehicle and the environment they are operating within so that the right battery technology is paired for their needs. For example, is it a luxury vehicle that already has a lot of electrical devices on board? Is that driver living in downtown Chicago so they are constantly in traffic which is challenging to how the battery recharges?  Or do they live in Los Angeles, which is also a high temperature application? That luxury vehicle operating in LA may have come with a flooded battery but because of how that person is driving in terms of traffic conditions and temperature, an AGM battery would be the better solution.

In the U.S., a lot of vehicles come with flooded technology. Based upon the new challenges the battery faces, flooded technology may not give the ideal performance and so people have been upgrading to AGM.

There is some misinformation in the market where people have tried to say batteries have to be like for like replacement. If the vehicle has an AGM battery, you cannot put in a lesser technology without impacting performance. That vehicle may be configured in such a way, like in a start-stop configuration, that it is using all the capabilities of that AGM battery already. Putting in a flooded technology can compromise the performance of the battery.

You can always upgrade technology; you can’t downgrade battery technology and expect the battery to perform optimally.

MTD: Please give MTD readers a peek at OE battery technology that’s further out.

Munsell, ACDelco: General Motors envisions a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, and we believe in an all-electric future that includes both battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles. That’s going to drive incredible innovations in battery technology because we must deliver no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.  You can expect regular updates on our battery technology as we introduce new vehicles.

Horn, Interstate Batteries: A hot area of development in the aftermarket is smart parts.  As a subset of AGM technology, shops can expect to see batteries with imbedded sensors so that consumers can monitor battery life in the palm of their hand.

Searl, Johnson Controls: The capabilities of start-stop vehicle technology are going to be expanded and further drive the need for next-generation AGM battery technology. We’re working closely with the OEs as a part of those product developments. How people are using their vehicles and the environment they’re operating in are becoming drastically more challenging. More capable battery technology is needed, and we see AGM as the leading technology as we go to the future.

Beyond that, there are other battery technologies we will start to see come into the marketplace but not at the same level of penetration as AGM.

Vehicle technologies will include advanced start-stop, microhybrids  and hybrid vehicle technology. Advanced start-stop vehicles paired with 12 volt lithium ion and microhybrid paired with 48 volt lithium ion systems are actively being considered by OEs today. We expect to see servicing of these vehicle technologies to begin in seven or eight years in the aftermarket. Johnson Controls works closely with OEs to help ensure that these technologies can be serviced by independent shops.     ■

About the Author

Ann Neal

Ann Neal is a former senior editor at Modern Tire Dealer.