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Pioneering climate friendliness: 25 years of catalytic converters at Opel

May 5, 2014

  • Opel first European manufacturer to install catalysts on entire range as standard
  • Commitment to environmental leadership, emissions lowered by over 90% in 25 years
  • Never so clean: Converters today complemented by more efficient powertrains
Opel News - Diesel offensive with particulate converters: In 2005 Opel introduced particulate filters for diesel-powered cars across the range, cutting particulate emissions to almost zero. This was done four years earlier than the 2009 Euro 5 requirements

Rüsselsheim.  When Louis R. Hughes took over at the helm of Opel in April 1989 – 25 years ago this month – he was faced with a myriad of tasks, but his attention immediately turned to catalytic converters. His first decision also became a first for any volume European manufacturer: the entire Opel gasoline range would be fitted with catalytic converters as standard.

 

By mid-1989, 19 of every 20 gasoline-powered Opels sold had a converter installed as standard, proving that Hughes’ decision, spurred by environmental concerns and tax incentives, and not a little business acumen, was timely.

Opel News - Opel one step ahead: While the basic idea has remained unchanged, catalytic converter technology has greatly improved since it was first introduced. The focus of regulations is clearly shifting towards more stringent testing and stricter diagnostics requirements

Today, emissions have been reduced drastically – to less than 10 percent of pre-catalytic converter levels – and Opel is committed to lowering them even further: “We are at the forefront of developing environmentally friendly technology to reduce the carbon footprint of our automobiles. This is not only being done through constantly improving our catalytic converter technology, but also by developing clean and efficient engines,” says Michael F. Ableson, Vice President GME Engineering. “Between 2013 and the end of 2016, Opel will bring in three fully new engine families and 13 new variants including numerous frugal derivatives with even lower emissions. Additionally, the company is proactively rolling out products that go over and above compliance with legal requirements.”

The rationale behind the decision

Opel News - Green fleet: From 1989 on, Opel introduced the catalytic converter in all gas-driven models as standard

Andreas Dindorf, Engineering Group Manager, Product Regulations, explains why the decision was taken to install catalytic converters as standard in 1989: “Cars equipped with converters were environmentally friendly and customers benefited from tax breaks. Additionally, since we are part of General Motors, we leveraged the know-how and technologies used for the U.S. – which required converters – and therefore were better prepared to take the plunge.”

Opel News - First volume manufacturer in Europe with a European-made catalytic converter: The first car featuring this, a 1.8-liter Opel Ascona made for the German Police, was delivered on December 7, 1984

As early as 1984, Opel was working on the project and was the first volume manufacturer in Europe to introduce a European-made catalytic converter on a 1.8-liter Opel Ascona made for the German Police and handed over on December 7 that same year.

 

This was more than a PR stunt. By the end of 1984, Opel had committed 1,000 employees to work on catalytic converters and invested a staggering DM1 billion, more than €500 million. Previously, modified U.S. converters were imported into Europe. GM, Opel’s parent company, was the biggest manufacturer of converters at the time.

A step ahead – from Euro 0 to Euro 6

Opel News - Opel one step ahead: While the basic idea has remained unchanged, catalytic converter technology has greatly improved since it was first introduced. The focus of regulations is clearly shifting towards more stringent testing and stricter diagnostics requirements

“We have made evolutionary steps in the way converters are designed to ensure maximum environmental protection,” said Staff Engineer, Engine Management Systems (EMS) Components, Roland Maucher. “Diagnostics have also improved considerably and today sensors are placed on either side of the converter to ensure the system is functioning properly. Another significant change was to integrate the converter with the exhaust manifold, making it far more efficient. Opel is committed to environmental leadership.”

Opel News - Strong and clean sports coupé: The Opel Calibra built from late 1989 was also equipped with a catalytic converter as standard

Environmental awareness started gaining traction in the 1980s, leading car manufacturers, such as Opel, to take a decision that has since prevented billions of tons of pollutant gases from entering the atmosphere. Converters were made obligatory in the EU in 1992. The reduction in emissions from the initial Euro 0 level to Euro 6 is staggering.

 

“Emissions regulations started being introduced in the 1970s, but the biggest impact was felt in 1992 when Euro 1 became effective. At that time, having a catalytic converter was not obligatory and depended on various factors,” he says.

Diesel offensive: The particulate converters are coming

Opel News - Diesel offensive with particulate converters: In 2005 Opel introduced particulate filters for diesel-powered cars across the range, cutting particulate emissions to almost zero. This was done four years earlier than the 2009 Euro 5 requirements

Euro 4 became mandatory in 2005, the same year Opel introduced particulate filters for diesel-powered cars across the range, cutting particulate emissions to almost zero. This was done four years earlier than the 2009 Euro 5 requirements. Opel has begun production of two new systems – the Lean Nox Trap (LNT) and the AdBlue Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) system, both of which reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) from exhaust gases. The results have been staggering: Effectively, the emissions of one diesel-powered car in 1992 is equivalent to 140 diesel cars in 2014.

Opel News - Opel 1.0 ECOTEC Direct Injection Turbo; Powerful as well as thrifty, the new 3-cylinder turbo offers 115 hp

“This year, Euro 6 standards become effective on new models and provide for further incremental reductions. With Euro 6, emission limits for diesel and petrol cars will be similarly tough. The focus of regulations is clearly shifting towards more stringent testing and tighter diagnostics requirements. We are now entering a new phase,” Dindorf says. “It’s no longer the case of whether cars are clean or dirty – they are all relatively speaking clean, and being made cleaner.”

 

The future will bring even further tightening through a new testing protocol. “We now expect a new test cycle, the World Light-duty Test Procedure, to be introduced. Additionally, we will eventually see the start of additional testing requirements on Real Driving Emissions (RDE), whereby mobile equipment will be used on cars on the road to check emission standards” Dindorf explains.

More efficient powertrains

Opel News - The Opel Astra enters the new model year with the new generation 1.6 liter CDTI diesel engine and IntelliLink infotainment system

“It is not only a matter of dealing with exhaust gases after they leave the engine “ says Dr Maucher, “but also reducing the amount of gases produced by the engine in the first place. Improved efficiency reduces so-called ‘engine-out’ emissions, so our engineers are putting a great deal of effort into making the combustion better and more effective.”

 

Between 2013 and 2016, Opel is renewing 80 percent of its engine portfolio, with three new engine families and 13 derivatives. This includes new families of powerful yet frugal 1.6-liter gasoline and diesel engines with lower CO2 emissions. Additionally, a new standard-setting 1.0-liter three-cylinder gasoline engine will be introduced this summer.

Opel News - The complete new 1.6 CDTI engine represents the next step in Opel’s powertrain offensive and may be characterized by an exceptionally quiet running performance. In addition, the engine is Euro-6 compliant and consumes just 3.9 liters of diesel per 100 kilometers

The new generation four-cylinder 1.6 ECOTEC Direct Injection Turbo gasoline engine is focused on optimized fuel economy, high low-end torque and outstanding elasticity. Compared to Opel’s previous 1.6-liter turbo engine, CO2 emissions and fuel consumption are 13 percent lower, while peak power and torque are up to 30 percent higher. The new Cascada mid-size convertible was the first Opel model available with this new engine, which now also powers the Astra, Astra GTC, and Zafira Tourer.

 

Opel’s all-new 1.6 CDTI Turbo diesel engine delivers class-leading performance across all key engine parameters. It was launched in the Zafira Tourer and is now already available in the Meriva and Astra. Both Opel’s BlueInjection Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system in the Zafira Tourer and Lean Nox Trap (LNT) technology in the Meriva and Astra are Euro 6 compliant, making the 1.6 CDTI as clean as a gasoline.

Opel News - Opel’s all-new 1.0-liter SIDI Turbo will raise the bar for three-cylinder engine refinement

The new ADAM ROCKS and the ADAM will be the first Opel models to feature the new generation 1.0 ECOTEC Direct Injection Turbo three-cylinder gasoline engine. This “pocket-powerhouse” already complies with Euro 6 emission standards and raises the bar for three-cylinder engine refinement.