Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI) is known primarily as a "Tier One" auto supplier, a big-league provider of parts and services to global automakers like Ford (NYSE:F), Toyota (NYSE:TM), and Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler (NASDAQOTH:DDAIF). The company is perhaps best known among investors as a maker of batteries for cars, including the lithium-ion battery packs used in electric cars and the most advanced hybrids.
JCI's battery leadership has drawn many investors' interest. The reelection of President Obama and the very visible early success of Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S sedan have helped contribute to renewed investor interest in electric cars. Thanks to government backing – backing that now looks set to continue for at least four more years, thanks to President Obama's reelection – and Tesla's example, electric cars are once again being viewed as a promising growth industry.
But is an investment in Johnson Controls the best way to play it? To help investors answer that question, I created a premium report on Johnson Controls that looks at the company's business as a whole – and prospects for each of its divisions.
Following is an excerpt from that report that outlines Johnson Controls' opportunity with electric cars. We hope you enjoy it.
Johnson Controls and the promise of electric cars
Many investors have looked at Johnson Controls as a way to invest in the big automotive trend of the moment: the movement toward hybrid gas-electric and pure-electric cars (EVs).
While electric cars were predicted to be a big growth industry by mid-decade, to some extent, that growth has stalled. Tepid consumer adoption of the first electric cars from global automakers – including the Nissan (NASDAQOTH:NSANY) LEAFand the Ford Focus Electric – and a general lack of initial widespread enthusiasm for the technology has led many to downgrade the size and profitability of the potential market for EV technologies, including batteries.
If and when that market emerges, JCI is likely to be a major player. The company has already invested heavily in developing EV batteries and related systems, in part via a now-defunct joint venture with French battery company Saft Groupe. JCI's factory in Holland, Mich., built jointly with Saft (but now wholly owned by JCI), was the first U.S. factory making lithium-ion batteries for use in EVs and hybrids.
More recently, the company has been actively attempting to acquire the assets and business of bankrupt battery maker A123 Systems, though there is competition from a Chinese firm. Regardless, expect JCI to continue to try to acquire EV-related businesses as they become available at good prices.
Why Johnson Controls is far from a "pure play"
But is that enough to justify an investment in JCI? In and of itself, probably not, for two reasons. First, many investments in lithium-ion auto battery plants have been announced around the world, so many that analysts fear a glut of production by mid-decade. While JCI is well-positioned to capture a significant chunk of this market, an excess of global production capacity suggests that margins are likely to be quite low.
Second, and more to the point, JCI's Power Solutions division is a small part of its total business in terms of revenue. Power Solutions' $5.9 billion in sales in 2011 represented just 14.4% of the company's total $40.8 billion last year. The effect of even significant growth in that division on the company's overall bottom line and trajectory is likely to be muted.
Meanwhile, prospects for the other divisions are mixed.
Looking for more guidance?
That was just a sample of The Motley Fool's new premium report on Johnson Controls. If you're weighing whether the company is a buy or sell, the report is an essential resource for investors seeking more information on the company. Not only that, but the report comes with updated quarterly guidance and dives into upcoming catalysts on the horizon. Just click here now to get started.
Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.