une 20 (Bloomberg) -- In 1973, junior engineer Takeo Fukui helped put Honda Motor Co. on the U.S. map with a Civic subcompact that met clean-air standards without a $1,000 tailpipe filter known as a catalytic converter. He was 28.
Today, as Honda's chief executive officer, Fukui, 61, is racing to repeat his triumph at a lab 68 miles (109 kilometers) north of Tokyo. There, engineers are building a diesel engine for 2009 that Honda says will meet both new U.S. limits and more stringent California rules on soot and nitrous oxide emissions and still use 30 percent less fuel than gasoline models.
Honda allows no media visitors to the lab. Fukui is guarding it as his secret weapon as U.S. gasoline prices soar to an average $2.87 a gallon and global warming worries 62 percent of Americans, a March Gallup Organization Inc. poll found.
``People want cars that emit less pollutants, use less fuel and protect their occupants,'' says John Casesa, an auto industry consultant at Casesa Shapiro Group LLC in New York. ``These trends play directly to Honda's strengths.''