Driving ambition

UK materials technology group Johnson Matthey is hoping to be one of the big winners from the auto industry’s search for new
low-emissions vehicle systems.

UK materials technology group Johnson Matthey is hoping to be one of the big winners from the auto industry’s search for newlow-emissions vehicle systems.

The London company is a key supplier of technology and precious metals to R&D teams working on two of the industry’s major challenges – catalysts that can clean up diesel engines and the development of fuel cell-powered vehicles.

Announcing a modest 3 per cent rise in annual profits to £178m, Johnson Matthey claimed trends in the automotive sector would begin to act strongly in its favour over the next few years.

JM’s environmental catalysts and technologies division, grew strongly in Asia and Europe, helping to offset a decline in US sales.

The Asian auto-catalyst sector was driven upwards by the runaway growth of the Chinese market, where car and van sales increased by over a third last year.

Although European car sales were flat, JM was helped by the booming demand for diesel engines and the knock-on benefits to its emission controls business.

Heavy-duty diesel (HDD) catalysts showed particularly strong growth, especially in Japan where sales were backed by an incentive programme from Tokyo’s regional authority.

JM said it had increased its investment in HDD joint development initiatives with vehicle manufacturers around the world, and several of these programmes would begin entering commercial production from next year.

It expects to see increased interest in emissions controls as regulators across the world put the squeeze on automotive OEMs with more stringent pollution reduction targets.

The company claimed ‘encouraging progress’ for its fuel cells operations thanks to the growing number of prototype vehicles currently undergoing durability testing around the world.

JM, which has a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) manufacturing plant in Swindon, said it expects fuel cell research to benefit from increased government support. The DTI recently gave the company a three-year, £3.2m grant to develop the next generation of MEAs, which are a key component of fuel cells.

Away from the automotive sector, JM said its pharmaceutical division had bucked the effects of the weak dollar to deliver a 15 per cent growth in operating profits.

The group’s giant precious metals operation – which accounts for £3bn of its £4.5bn total turnover – increased its sales by 3 per cent and enjoyed a strong second half of the year thanks to a growth in demand for platinum and itsassociated rise in price.

On the web