EV Push Will Fragment Auto Market


EV Push Will Fragment Auto Market
An aerial view from a drone of the downtown Cleveland, Ohio, skyline with traffic and skyscrapers. © Wirestock Creators

There is still a wide range of variation in forecasts about the pace at which the auto industry will shift to electric vehicles. What’s more certain is that the mix of automobile powertrains will become less uniform.

The set of solutions offered by lubricant suppliers will therefore fragment, a Valvoline official told an industry event here last week. He added that the industry also faces significant formulation challenges to provide new products for hybrid vehicles and pure electrics.

“Electrification is starting, and the energy transition will lead to a more complex mix of powertrain solutions,” Valvoline Vice President for International Research and Development George Zhang said at Lubricant Expo North America on March 19.

Much attention is devoted these days to predicting how fast automobile sales will shift to new-energy models – those powered by battery and other fuels such as hydrogen or compressed natural gas. But so far there is little consensus because of a number of significant variables: the development of infrastructures to recharge batteries; future costs of electric vehicles compared to conventional models; legislative actions that governments could take.

But in any case, he said, it’s clear that large numbers of vehicles powered only by internal combustion engines will remain in use for many years. Zhang showed a range of projections based on possible future developments. Worldwide light- and heavy-duty vehicle sales are predicted to rise to 107 million units by 2035, from 92 million in 2023.

Sales of vehicles powered only by ICEs could fall as low as 43 million by 2035, he said, if governments adopt laws that aggressively restrict their use. Or they could remain as high as 72 million if there is too little investment in charging infrastructure and battery power fails to take hold among consumers.

“The number of EVs will undoubtedly grow worldwide, but there will be significant differences between regions,” Zhang said. He added that the types of alternatives will vary. “Hybrids will be a viable solution, whether stopgap or permanent, for a long time.”

The mix of vehicle types matters a lot to lubricant suppliers because different powertrains need different products. Automotive engine oils are by far the industry’s largest product category, but electric motors do not require them. But battery-only vehicles and plug-in hybrids do bring new performance requirements for transmission fluids, gear oils and greases.

EV batteries generate large amounts of heat that have to be managed. On the other hand, hybrids use their ICE more intermittently than conventional vehicles and can have lower operating temperatures – both of which exacerbate the problem of lubricant dilution by fuel and water. Lubricants therefore need to be formulated to better tolerate this problem.

EV lubricants and fluids also need to tolerate electrical charges in ways that have not been necessary in conventional vehicles, Zhang said. Automakers are also pushing hard for better efficiency in order to extend the ranges of EVs.

“This will drive demand for higher quality base oils,” Zhang said.

Related Topics

Automotive Lubricants    Finished Lubricants