Thieves from Japan to the United States steal car parts worth more than gold
TOKYO – In a town near Toyota Motor’s hometown, police recently faced a rare type of theft, even for low crime Japan.
A Toyota Prius hybrid reported stolen last month in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, was later found with its catalytic converter cut off.
“I had never heard of such a case in this prefecture until now,” said a source close to the police.
The US and UK police probably wouldn’t say the same thing. Emission-reducing catalytic converters have become a prime target for thieves around the world, especially in the US and UK, as the industrial precious metals they contain have skyrocketed.
Catalytic converters use rhodium and palladium, two of the platinum group metals. A vehicle’s catalytic converter contains a few grams of both, but that’s enough to attract thieves. Rhodium and palladium are produced in low quantities and were already expensive before recent gains.
The price of ultrarare rhodium has jumped since the second half of 2020 to a record high of nearly $ 30,000 per troy ounce in March – five times the level of the previous year. Palladium futures hit a record breaking above $ 3,000 in May.
Both rhodium and palladium are worth more than gold, which trades around $ 1,800 per troy ounce. Disruption caused by COVID-19 and mining issues have squeezed supplies, even as demand for automobiles has rebounded as economies recover from the pandemic.
In the UK, thefts of catalytic converters peaked in March at more than 3,200 cases, according to the National Council of Chiefs of Police. The United States recorded more than 2,300 thefts in December, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, quadrupling from the previous year.
The price of platinum group metals used in a single catalytic converter has fallen from around $ 100 about three years ago to around $ 400 to $ 800, according to UK metals refiner Johnson Matthey.
Recyclers typically pay $ 50 to $ 250 for used catalytic converters, the NICB reported earlier this year.
Thieves in Japan are increasingly attacking copper. August saw 743 confirmed cases of copper theft nationwide, according to the National Police Agency, an increase of about 80% on the year.
In Sagamihara, southwest of Tokyo, more than 130 water taps were stolen in May. Nagoya suffered 13 water meter thefts between June and September.
In May, the price of copper hit an all-time high, exceeding $ 10,700 per tonne. After prices eased for a while, the metal once again broke above $ 10,000 in mid-October.
Rhodium and palladium are now trending down. But with supplies still limited, prices could rebound sharply if auto production picks up.
Japanese authorities and businesses are responding to thefts. Police in Aichi Prefecture are planning to investigate the resale of the stolen catalytic converters. The National Police Agency calls on recyclers to verify identities and keep records of transactions.
“If someone brings something, we can ask them to show some ID,” said a representative of a Tokyo-area copper scrap buyer.