Departures Leave Void in Spec Development


The recent departures of three veteran leaders has left a shortage of experience among the North American collection of committees that develop automotive lubricant specifications. Industry insiders say the loss is serious enough to make the already challenging work even more difficult.

The individuals are Angela Willis, who will no longer represent General Motors on the Auto/Oil Advisory Panel; Volvos Greg Shank, long-time co-chairman of API’s Diesel Engine Oil Advisory Panel, who passed away in December; and Rodger Gault, who will soon retire as representative of the EMA, have created a void in experience with their departures that the specification development field will have challenges replacing.

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”I can’t remember a time we had that many go at the same time,” Kevin Ferrick, director of API’s Products Programs, told Lube Report.

Willis is now a consultant and still serves as ASTM’s Passenger Car Engine Oil chairperson, but her departure from GM meant she could no longer represent the company in meetings or speak and vote on behalf of the company on the Auto/Oil Advisory Panel, which manages the process of new category development for passenger car and light truck oils. Willis also left her role as the representative of the International Lubricants Standardization and Advisory Committee on the Lubricants Standards Development Review Group, which aims to better the spec development process by making them more time efficient, making testing more cost-efficient and developing the best tests possible.

”Angela provided a lot of wisdom and insight about GF-5 I believe and GF-6, and she played an important role in some of the tests – certainly the Sequence VIE and the VIF tests because they’re both GM tests,” Ferrick said.

Gault was a longtime EMA representative who also participated on the Heavy-Duty Engine Oil panel and the APIs Diesel Engine Oil Advisory panel. The EMA represents heavy-duty engine and truck manufacturers. Gault had a hand in the standards development process and represented original equipment manufacturer members on the DEOAP.

Perhaps the biggest loss was that of Shank, the longtime co-chairperson of the DEOAP. ”In essence, Greg basically led the diesel engine oil standards development process for EMA for decades,” Ferrick said. ”Greg’s [role] was incredibly important because he was a longtime leader,” said Ferrick. ”The institutional knowledge we lost with Greg was significant. So I suspect there’s going to be moments when we miss that.”

You lose a great deal of experience suddenly, and thats going to be the challenge because institutional memory helps things move along, and so we’ve lost that.

”Observers said leadership turnover is eventually inevitable and that new participants must have time to learn the inter-industry processes. Spec development is very much a niche,” said Josh Frederick, OEM technical manager for Valvoline and co-chair of the AOAP. ”You really only get the necessary experience by living through a few of these categories. And so every time we lose somebody who has accumulated that experience, it takes a long time to replace it.”

Things that chairmen need to grasp go beyond those that can be written on paper, like the formal roles of various committees. Knowledge of government regulations is also important, as is an understanding of whether North American specifications should align with those in Europe, according to Joan Evans, industrial liaison manager for the Americas at Infineum. She serves as chairperson of the American Chemistry Council Petroleum Additives panel, vice chairperson of the ACC Product Approval Protocol Task Group, is a member of the LSDRG and a voting member for the API Lubricants Group.

Experience is especially important on the test development side of spec development. Test development is not tightly controlled, she explained, and while the ASTM International process – which develops the final tests – is rigorous and understood, the early stages are more loosely defined. ”How do you actually go about developing a test, who knows that?” she said. ”There’s a million ways you can introduce a test. There’s no formal procedure, and there’s no formal stage or gate process to say, ‘This is done right, this wasn’t done right.’”

Spec development brings together a long list of organizations with a wide variety of interests. Final agreement on a single specification requires compromise, and facilitating it takes skillful leadership, according to participants. It’s one part technical and two parts diplomacy, said Frederick. ”I’ve watched groups debate for hours the meaning of statistics. Everybody’s looking at the same data but different parties are making different conclusions from the same data. So there is a lot of back and forth diplomatic efforts that occur to reach a consensus on these things.”

With so much to grasp, the learning curve can be steep for new committee chairmen. While working within the lubricants industry helps, learning the specification development process can only come with hands-on experience.

Still, new members bring new perspectives to the process, which Frederick and Evans agreed is valuable. You lose a lot in terms of knowledge but you also gain from other peoples perspectives so its good to have a balance, said Evans.

So far, Nathan Siebert has been tapped as the new GM representative to replace Willis on AOAP, and Tia Sutton of the United States Environmental Protection Agency will assume Gault’s role.

”I think that [Sutton] is definitely picking up the pieces and willing to learn,” said Evans.