Visteon introduces long-life air filter system

DETROIT - Add air filters to the list of items the auto industry is working to make maintenance free.

Visteon Corp. says its sealed-for-life air filter box will be used on a high-volume passenger vehicle in 2003, although the company will not identify the automaker.

The air filter is the latest component to be pushed into the long-life category as automakers strive to reduce maintenance costs for consumers, while reducing manufacturing costs with fewer parts numbers and easier assembly at the factory.

The past decade has seen the introduction of spark plugs good for 100,000 miles, long-life engine coolant and long-life transmission fluids.

Another benefit: The size and shape of the filter can be tailored to each application so it can be tucked into unused spaces, such as inside a fender, creating more room under the hood.

Sealed box

Visteon's Long Life Filtration System replaces the traditional paper air filter with several layers of foam permanently sealed in an air box made of recycled plastic. Each foam layer has different-sized holes, which allow air to flow through nearly unrestricted as it filters out dust particles, said Neville Bugli, a senior filtration systems technical specialist for Visteon.

Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., Visteon's chief rival, says it does not have a similar system to offer customers.

Consumer acceptance of 100,000-mile spark plugs and other maintenance-saving items convinced Visteon to develop the system.

The filter is designed to last at least 150,000 miles and has been tested in fleets since 1998 in four parts of the country, said Greg Green, supervisor of air induction engineering at the Dearborn, Mich., supplier.

Visteon tested prototypes of the filter in Orlando, Fla., Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Ariz., and New York City.

Though several test vehicles accumulated more than 200,000 miles, the filters still were more than 80 percent efficient.

Easier assembly

Automakers pay between $25 and $80 for air induction boxes, the part of the intake system that holds the filter, and the hoses used on vehicles. The Visteon system costs about the same, depending on the application, Green said.

But because it is delivered to the automaker as a sealed component, there will be fewer part numbers and less assembly required on the production line, which should give automakers a slight savings. Since consumers never have to change the filter, there's no chance of installing the wrong filter or improperly sealing the air filter box, a common problem that leads to warranty claims, Green said. The system also reduces noise, vibration and harshness and prevents unburned fuel vapors from leaving the intake system through the air cleaner, Green said.

But there is a downside: If the system is placed inside a fender, it likely would be destroyed in an accident, increasing repair costs. Also, if the filter becomes clogged, it would be labor-

intensive and costly to change.

A resettable gauge near the filter box alerts the technician that the filter is clogged. Said Bugli: "People service air filters much more than what is required. Every time you touch something you don't need to, you run the risk of damaging it."

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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