New, sterically demanding 1,3-dialkyl-3,4,5,6-tetrahydropyrimidinium salts (2) as NHC precursors have been synthesized and characterized. These salts, in combination with palladium acetate, provided active catalysts for the cross-coupling of aryl chlorides and bromides under mild conditions. The catalytic system was applied to the Heck, Suzuki and benzaldehyde (Kumada) coupling reactions. Catalyst activity was found to be influenced by the presence of a methoxy group on the ring of the p-position of benzyl substituent of the ligand precursor. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.