IMPCO Technologies designs, manufactures, markets and applies products and systems allowing on-highway and off-highway engines to run on environmentally friendly, clean-burning gaseous fuels. “The products and systems we manufacture allow internal combustion engines to run on propane, natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of gasoline or diesel,” explains Brad Garner, IMPCO’s general manager. “Our products are applied to engine sizes ranging from one horsepower to well over 5,000 horsepower in an array of applications varying from two-wheeled scooters and forklifts to large buses, heavy-duty trucks and power generation systems for commercial buildings.”
IMPCO’s fuel system products, complete fuel systems and emissions certified engine packages are used for a wide variety of applications in both the aftermarket replacement and OEM markets. “We provide a Total Systems approach by offering fuel metering and control systems, electric control systems, catalytic converter and fuel storage systems, as well as administrative support services,” says Garner.
“Our most valuable offering is our technology and systems integration services,” notes Garner. “We can integrate our technology into a wide range of engines or into the customer’s vehicle platform.”
IMPCO’s distribution structure flows through two channels: professional aftermarket distributors and OEMs, which fall into the categories of on-highway transportation, off-highway industrial and power generation. The company supplies well-known transportation OEMs such as Toyota, General Motors, Mazda, Ford, Scania Truck and Ashok Leyland. For the industrial market, IMPCO supplies forklift OEMs including Mitsubishi, Yale, Clark and Hyster. In the power generation OEM sector, the company supplies Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Waukesha, and Honda’s portable generator division.
The energy crisis in the 1970s precipitated IMPCO’s first significant spurt of growth. IMPCO’s alternative fuel systems caught the attention of the automotive industry and during this time period the company became the pre-eminent supplier of aftermarket conversions in North America.
In 2000, the Cerritos California headquarters received ISO 9001 certification, while in the United Kingdom IMPCO/Scania CNG trucks passed the four-million-mile test mark using the company’s Eclipse fuel management system. IMPCO’s highly regarded line of Spectrum advanced fuel systems also was introduced as the new millennium got underway. Founded in 1958 the company is headquartered in Cerritos, Calif. IMPCO has two additional offices in the United States in Detroit and Seattle. The company has offices to support OEM sales around the world, including Europe, China, India, Australia, Japan, and Mexico.
The Spectrum and Eclipse Systems
IMPCO has introduced two new product lines recently. “These two product lines are our response to recent global regulations requiring significant diesel engine emission reductions and legislation in the United States focused on minimizing the emissions of industrial equipment. They were developed in conjunction with both our key customers and our key suppliers.” says Garner.
The first product, the Eclipse System, is aimed at the heavy-duty on-highway transportation sector and is specifically made for heavy-duty truck and bus applications. The Eclipse System is capable of operating on either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquid natural gas (LNG). The new system represents IMPCO’s latest effort to supplant diesel as the primary source of fuel in heavy-duty trucks and buses. “Diesel is one of the biggest sources of air-borne pollution in developing countries,” notes Garner.
The second product, the Spectrum system, has an extensive range of applications for the off-highway tier one and tier two emission market. The system can be used in forklifts, airport ground-support equipment, and other mobile off-highway industrial equipment, and is the cornerstone for certifying to governmental emission standards. “The Spectrum system is a scalable gaseous fuel system that can be adapted to anything from a one-liter to a nine-liter spark ignited engine,” says Garner.
IMPCO’s Asian Adventure
Pollution from two-stroke auto-rickshaws and heavy-duty diesel buses contribute significantly to the Asian Brown Cloud, a two-mile-thick, dense layer of atmospheric pollution, which is changing weather patterns, causing disease and threatening the region’s agriculture and economic growth. A study released in the summer of 2002 by the United Nations and the World Health Organization has determined that the dense blanket of pollution hovering over South Asia poses not only a threat to the region but to the globe as a whole. Of the 20 most polluted cites in the world, more than half are located in Asia: Bangkok, Beijing, Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Manila, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Motor vehicles are a major source of air pollution in these large cities. In more than half of the top 20 most polluted cities, it is the single most contributing source.
The report estimates that the cloud, which can be as much as two miles in thickness in some areas, has placed millions of people in the region at risk; in fact, the UN report concluded that the cloud is already responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year from respiratory ailments. The pollution phenomenon also is changing the region’s weather patterns for the worse. Moreover, the report finds that other areas of the world are at risk because the cloud’s unique characteristics provide it with the potential to travel half way around the globe.
“Given the nature of the threat posed by the pollution in Asia,” says Garner, “the region is front and center in most people’s minds; if not, it should be. Many people in the United States are finally realizing that pollution in one area will start to affect neighboring areas if something isn’t done about it. If the industrialized world doesn’t help to reduce the level of pollution in developing countries, then all of the efforts we’ve made to reduce pollution at home will be for naught.”
The pollution problem in Asia is caused in large part by motor vehicles using antiquated and/or highly polluting fuel technologies, such as oil-burning, two-stroke engines and uncontrolled diesel engines. In many areas of Asia, the level of automotive technology is 10 to 15 years behind U.S. technology. “During the course of our research,” notes Garner, “we’ve discovered that over 80 percent of the 350 million motor vehicles in Asia are small two-stroke scooters and auto rickshaws, and many countries still use leaded gasoline to power automobiles and trucks.”
“As the Asian economies continue to grow, this generates a need for private forms of transportation which leads to an exponential increase in the number of vehicles,” explains Garner. “Moreover many Asian countries do not address vehicle maintenance or fuel quality. Taken together these conditions set the stage for a highly polluted Asian environment.”
IMPCO is highly motivated to help alleviate pollution in Asia and has been working in partnership there for many years. IMPCO has established a joint venture in China to develop cars and buses with natural gas or propane as fuel. IMPCO also has teamed up with an Indian company, the Minda Group, to retrofit heavy-duty trucks and buses, automobiles and small two- and three-wheeled motor vehicles with natural gas or propane. Additionally, in India Minda/IMPCO will be supplying its technology to new vehicle manufacturers.
Future Avenues of Growth
IMPCO anticipates growth through both natural market share increases and acquisitions in the next couple of years. The strategy in the acquisitions area is to increase the company’s distribution areas and to invest in technologies that would enhance its core technologies.
In the spring of 2002, IMPCO formed a strategic alliance with Lotus Engineering. The UK-based firm is a leading global automotive engineering consultancy. The alliance was created in order to facilitate the interchange of technologies between the two companies. “We provide them with gaseous fuel technology and they in turn help us with engine design and development,” says Garner.
In the American market IMPCO will be concentrating its efforts on certified engine packages and service for the industrial and power generation sectors, where the target market annually produces more than 100,000 pieces of equipment. In the international arena, “We believe the biggest growth market for the company will be in the Asian transportation industry. The Asian market holds tremendous potential for IMPCO with a short-term, seven-year prospective of over three million vehicles in our target market.”