A new technology for catalytic converters enables automakers to save up to $200 per converter and helps insulate them from the volatile price swings of precious metals such as platinum.
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. will be the first to use the less-expensive catalytic converter, on a small Japan-market van named the StepWGN, in April.
Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., the world's largest auto supplier, says it will produce a similar converter in 2002 for a U.S. vehicle.
The catalytic converter is one of the most expensive parts of a vehicle. The high-temperature device cleans the exhaust of carbon monoxide and other gases through chemical reactions.
At the heart of catalytic converters are expensive platinum group metals - platinum, palladium or rhodium. The metals are expensive because supplies are found in remote areas of the world or in politically unstable countries, such as Russia, which makes it hard to guarantee a steady supply.
Honda worked with Catalytic Solutions Inc., a small company in Oxnard, Calif., to develop an internal coating for the converter that cuts the use of precious metals by as much as 70 percent. Honda owns 10 percent of Catalytic Solutions.
The coating contains small amounts of platinum group metals along with perovskites, or metal-oxides,Catalytic Solutions says.
Honda sends the material to Catalytic Solutions' factory in Oxnard. The coating is applied and the material is returned to Honda, said Kristina Caulkins, spokeswoman for Catalytic Solutions.
Honda has not chosen a U.S.-market vehicle for the converter, spokesman Art Garner said. 'There's no timetable yet, but that's definitely our intention,' he said.
Delphi plans to produce a similar converter in summer 2002 for use on a 2003-model U.S. car, said Heinz Robota, Delphi's chief engineer for catalytic products. Robota would not say which automaker plans to use the converter.
Garner says the converter replaces the existing unit without needing engine or fuel system modifications. 'It requires a precise air-fuel management system and a fast light-off catalytic converter. All parts of these systems have to work very closely together,' Garner says.
Catalytic Solutions says the coating has proved durable in 100,000-mile tests, and up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. But the converter to be used on the StepWGN has been certified for only 50,000 miles.
Caulkins, citing confidentiality agreements, said she could not name the other automakers planning to use the coating. She says the Honda deal is the start of mass production, and Catalytic Solutions plans to build a plant in Europe.