Exclusive: Johnson Controls explores auto unit sale - sources

Johnson Controls Inc is exploring a potential sale of its automotive interiors unit, a move that would allow the diversified manufacturer to focus on higher-margin building controls and next-generation car batteries, three people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Johnson Controls, the largest U.S. auto supplier with 2012 sales of more than $4 billion in car interiors, has grappled with industry-wide pressure on margins, low vehicle production in Europe and increased competition from China.

A successful sale of the interiors division, which competes with rivals such as Magna International Inc and Faurecia , would leave Johnson Controls with three other major business: automotive seating, building controls and car batteries.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company is being advised by investment bank JPMorgan Chase on the potential interiors divestiture, two of the people said, asking not to be named because the discussions are private.

Johnson Controls declined to comment. JPMorgan did not have immediate comment.

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim in New York and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; editing by Carol Bishopric)