By Frank Tang
NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) - A push by the United States to improve fuel efficiency could spur demand for platinum catalytic converters from leading car producers for diesel-powered vehicles, an executive of platinum specialist refiner Johnson Matthey said.
Jeremy Coombes, Johnson Matthey's general manager of marketing and publication, said he also expects U.S. platinum and palladium autocatalyst demand to grow year-over-year on improving vehicle output.
The 'Big Three' American automakers, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, are pressing to meet a government requirement for average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon (23.2 km per liter) by 2025, almost doubling the current fuel efficiency. http://link.reuters.com/dew32t
While reducing engine size, curb weight and increasing more hybrids and electric-vehicle (EV) models have drawn more media attention, automakers could also make fuel-efficient vehicles by refocusing on diesel models.
'Diesel could become an element in that fight to achieve fuel economy, at the same time providing all the usual performance characteristics that big cars have,' Coombes said.
Diesel engines, mainly used in North American heavy-duty vehicles and trucks, tend to be more fuel efficient and offer more horsepower than their gasoline counterparts.
While cheaper palladium is widely used in gasoline vehicles, platinum is more heavily used in diesel engines to filter out harmful gas emissions.
Michael Levine, truck communication manager at Ford Motor Co , said diesel vehicles tend to be favored by owners of commercial vans and heavy-duty trucks, who are more aggressive about cutting fuel costs.
He cited a brand new diesel-engine Transit van model to be launched in 2014 by the U.S. No. 2 automaker.
Earlier in May, Ford said it will add 2,000 jobs to its Kansas City Assembly Plant for its Transit production and to meet surging demand of its F-150 pickup trucks.
Ford's F-series pickup trucks, the best-selling models in the U.S. market for 36 years, include a 6.7-liter diesel heavy-duty version.
'If diesel vehicle production is going up, North American will get some more demand for platinum,' Coombes said.
SHRINKING ENGINE SIZE
Another option for carmakers to improve fuel economy is to design smaller engines.
Coombes said that U.S. demand for platinum group metals might not necessarily suffer even though smaller engines often mean using less autocatalysts.
'It is possible that this will produce more pollutants, and that may work in favor of more PGMs, therefore balancing out the effect of new smaller engines,' Coombes said.
Looking forward, Coombes said he expects platinum and palladium autocatalyst demand to grow in 2013 after they both posted double-digit growth last year.
'The American market appears to be healthy. We expect more cars to be produced this year,' Coombes said.
(Editing by Veronica Brown and Patrick Graham) Keywords: PLATINUM WEEK JM/ US
(Frank.Tang@thomsonreuters.com)(+1 646 223 6126)(Reuters Messaging: email@example.com)
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013. All rights reserved.
The copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters News Content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters.