IFC Bids to Replace Regional Oil Specs

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A representative for a new automaker association unveiled its plan yesterday to create a framework to develop global specifications for engine oils and other fluids – a framework intended to replace the existing systems that develop API, ILSAC, ACEA and JASO oil specs.

Speaking at SAE International’s World Congress Experience Digital Summit, Toyota’s Teri Kowalski said the International Fluids Consortium will deliver higher performance specifications faster, more economically and more efficiently than current programs because it will be a global initiative led by automakers and not encumbered by requirements for consensus from other industries.

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“As you know, the current industry specification process relies on large industry-wide group consensus,” she said. “But an alternative process in which [original equipment manufacturers] define the fluid needs for their vehicles and then set the course for industry partners to deliver [specifications] will reduce the time and expense involved in reaching a new agreement and implementing a new specification.

“It will also allow for more rapid and flexible response to new vehicle technology and will encourage individual additive and oil companies to invest in developing innovative fluid technology.”

In an interview afterward, IFC officials said the organization – working behind the scenes – has already gathered significant support.

“Currently more than a dozen OEMs are at various stages of becoming members of the IFC, representing a significant share of vehicles manufactured,” said a spokesperson who asked not to be identified. “We continue to receive additional OEM membership requests and are beginning to receive requests for industry affiliate membership.”

Kowalski said the initiative has already reached the critical mass necessary to develop a global framework.

“It’s going to be successful,” she said when asked whether the effort has a viable level of support. “We already have a stack of completed [memberships applications]. It will move forward and this is going to be the new system.”

Automakers are also heavily involved in existing programs for developing industry specifications for engine oil performance. The primary programs are administered by the International Lubricant Specification Advisory Committee and the American Petroleum Institute in North America, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), and the Japanese Standards Organization. Although developed firstly for their home markets, the specs administered by those organizations are also followed throughout the world by operators of the vehicle models for which they are written. In some countries, national specs are also adopted.

Some automakers – along with some lubricant and additive suppliers – have complained in recent years that existing programs are too expensive, take too long to bring specifications to market and result in watered down performance levels. The IFC’s proposal, though, may encounter criticism from parts of the lubricants industry opposed to losing their role in decision making.

Kowalski contended that the lubes industry and consumers would benefit from a system that develops global specs, allowing marketers to appeal to more customers with fewer products. “The current systems are regional, which fosters duplication and inefficiencies,” she said. “A process that focuses on global specifications will benefit everyone.”

She said a global system would also reduce costs because the current systems lead to work being duplicated in different regions. Likewise she said it better leverages the industry’s knowledge base, which she said is shrinking due to retirements.

IFC is a not-for-profit organization formed last year and based in Southfield, Michigan. Officials said the group is not yet ready to identify members other than Toyota. It has two levels of membership for automakers: strategic for companies on the board of directors, which will guide activities; and standard for companies that contribute to engine tests and other aspects of spec development.

Affiliate members from outside the auto industry can participate on advisory councils and offer input on spec development.

Kowalski suggested that IFC will develop standards for a wide range of light-duty engine oils and other fluids, including low-viscosity, low ash and extended-life crankcase oils for internal combustion engines to driveline fluids used in electric vehicles. She said it was too early to comment about possible timelines for introducing such specs since the consortium will have to decide set priorities, but she held out the possibility of multiple specs being developed simultaneously.

Like existing programs, the consortium plans to design trademarks to be displayed on products meeting its specs and to fund its work through licensing fees paid by lubricant and fluid marketers displaying those marks. Funds from those fees would remain within the not-for-profit organization, allowing automakers contributions to focus on hardware and expertise rather than cash.

Overall, the global nature of the program will allow IFC to develop tests for more performance parameters than existing programs while still reducing costs.

“This not-for-profit organization will allow funding efforts [for development] to move more rapidly,” she said. “The cost to the OEMs is definitely going to decrease because of the licensing fees.

“But it’s not going to cost oil companies more. Everyone will benefit from the savings gained by eliminating the duplication that now occurs in different regions.”