Tim Howes, Deputy General Manager – Supply Chain and Technical Service, NGK Spark Plugs (UK)
As its name suggests, NGK Spark Plug Co Ltd develops and manufactures spark plugs for vehicles, motorcycles and aircraft. It also produces oxygen sensors for vehicle engines through its NTK brand. In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with Tim Howes, Deputy General Manager - Supply Chain and Technical Service and Tim Ward, Deputy General Manager - Sales & Marketing, NGK Spark Plugs (UK) about trends in the spark plug market.
Could you tell us how the design of spark plugs has advanced in recent years to meet vehicle manufacturers' requirements?
Tim Howes: NGK Spark Plugs (UK) Ltd works closely with the world's leading vehicle manufacturers to produce original equipment spark plugs for their vehicles. VMs are becoming ever more demanding as they look to enhance engine performance and fuel economy while achieving reduced emissions.
There has been a move towards the development of smaller petrol engines and NGK's spark plugs were selected for a ground-breaking new Ford engine which won a major international award this year.
They feature in Ford's new 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine - small enough to fit on an A4 sheet of paper - which was named 2012 'International Engine of the Year' after being praised for its impressive fuel efficiency and low CO2 emissions. The three-cylinder engine is currently available in the Ford B-MAX, the Ford Focus and the Ford C-MAX.
In addition, NGK has also introduced a spark plug featuring a terminal in its new 'cup design', in place of the common SAE terminal.
In the new design, the ignition coil or ignition lead establishes contact by means of a spring inserted into the cup, thus establishing a reliable high-voltage connection.
This design is particularly favourable for use in downsizing engines. As these engines work with higher supercharging rates and increased ignition pressures, higher ignition voltages are required. To guarantee a loss-free transmission of these high voltages towards the electrodes of the spark plug, the flashover resistance at the high voltage side of the plug needs to be optimised.
NGK says this requirement is met by the new terminal. The new design is only a third of the height of the SAE terminal with the space saved used to lengthen the ceramic insulator by several millimetres - a step which, in turn, improves the flashover resistance of the spark plug.
And the new cup design offers an additional advantage; as the contact is established inside the cup, the spring is screened which helps to avoid breakdowns across the insulator or the ignition coil boot respectively.
As we see them, spark plugs are a relatively simply product yet must deal with demanding conditions and exacting requirements. I guess vehicle manufacturers are becoming increasingly demanding for each vehicle model?
Tim Howes: We work closely with the VMs to ensure we develop the most technically advanced spark plugs to meet the ever more specific needs of its OE customers. Consequently as these same OE plugs are used in the aftermarket, consumers can be sure they are getting the correct-fit 'bespoke' spark plug to meet the OE's performance criteria for their particular model.
As the range of OE spark plugs increases with varying characteristics, what are the implications for the aftermarket?
Tim Ward: With NGK, consumers can be sure they are getting the correct-fit spark plug to meet the vehicle manufacturers' performance criteria for their particular model as the same original equipment quality spark plugs are sold in the aftermarket. VMs would not ask NGK to supply specific individual spark plugs if they thought that a shorter range would work as efficiently so it is important that garages fit the correct bespoke plug every time at the designated service interval to ensure optimum performance.
Given these trends in the spark plug market, do you think that there are greater opportunities for garages increase their spark plug and glow plug sales?
Tim Ward: It has never been more important for an installer to fit the correct specification spark and glow plugs and NGK advises fitment of plugs manufactured to OE specification or above - as all its plugs are.
There is a great opportunity for garages to increase their spark and glow plug sales by educating consumers. There is a tendency for some garages not to replace spark plugs to keep the price of a service down, but their replacement should be part of the service as they play an integral role in a vehicle's economy and emissions' performance. A misfire of a spark plug can allow unburned fuel to enter the catalytic converter which in some cases can shorten its life or cause severe damage.
It is important for distributors to educate garages on the importance of maximising plug sales by advising that instead of changing one faulty plug, they should 'up sell' by replacing all of them. Garages should not look for a quick fix; they should explain to their customers that fitting the correct plug is vital for the well-being of their vehicle.
I guess that it is greater role for distributors to educate garages on the importance of maximizing glow plug sales by advising that instead of replace one faulty glow plug; they should up sell by replacing all of them?
Tim Ward: It is important for distributors to educate garages on the importance of maximising glow plug sales by advising that instead of changing one faulty plug, they should 'up sell' by replacing all of them.
It is also clearly important that the installer fits the correct specification plug. Could you tell us about your interactive e-learning facility?
The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE research service