Infineum: Involve Asia in Lube Specs

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Infineum: Involve Asia in Lube Specs

Asia has become the worlds largest and fastest-growing lubricant market, but it still relies largely on specifications developed in and for other regions. A major additive supplier contends its time that Asia played a role in standards development, but the company said it will be difficult to make that happen.

Asia is now the number one global market for a number of Western-headquartered OEMs, which really makes the concept of the Western home country specifications… increasingly outdated, Infineum Executive Vice President for Marketing and Technology Christopher Locke said in an essay posted on the companys online newsletter, Insight. Asias rise, he added, means it is increasingly important to fully integrate the needs of Asia into the specification mix.

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Photo courtesy of Infineum

Infineum’s Christopher Locke

The Insight essay was based on a March 5 presentation by Locke at the Asia-Pacific Base Oil, Lubricant & Grease Conference in Singapore, hosted by F&L Asia.

China is now easily the worlds largest automobile market, and sales across the continent continue growing rapidly, having passed 74 million units in 2012. As Locke noted, the vehicle population in the Asia-Pacific region is quite different from Europe and North America. In Asia-Pacific, roughly two thirds of new vehicles sales are motorcycles, while passenger cars account for three quarters of sales in Europe and North America.

Asia does have a prominent voice in development of specifications for motorcycle oils, as the Japanese Automotive Standards Organization writes widely followed standards for four- and two-cycle engines. But when it comes to engine oils for passenger cars and heavy-duty trucks, most products in Asia follow specifications developed by the American Petroleum Institute or the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). Japanese automakers are members of both groups, but API develops specifications for the North American market while ACEA does so for Europe.

Currently, these API and ACEA specifications provide the foundations for the majority of lubricants found in Asia – despite the fact that these specifications were not developed with Asia as a key areas of focus, and that the Asian OEMs are largely outside these specification setting processes, Locke said.

The problem for Asian markets, Locke said, is that their lubricant needs may be significantly different – not only from Europe and North America, but also from other countries within the region. For example, the newest specs in the West were driven largely by the need to accommodate technologies meant to control emissions of air pollutants, such as diesel particulate filters, exhaust gas recirculation and selective catalytic reduction.

Most Asian nations are also adopting emissions limits, but few except Japan are keeping pace with Europe and the United States, and current regulations differ significantly within Asia. Fuel quality differs dramatically across Asia, and can significantly impact engine oils.

The case for action for regionally oriented specifications is strong, Locke said. The concept of a single global set of specifications is not realistic….

Most European and North American automakers are present in Asian markets, but they compete against numerous manufacturers that are home to the region. Locke said this makes lubricant needs in Asia even more complex.

To service this attractive market, Asia has the largest global range of OEM diversity – from local brands, hitherto relatively unknown outside of their home country, right through to the major market players like General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen, he said. Many of these OEMs have divergent or even in some cases mutually exclusive lubricant needs.

Meeting the regions needs means taking into account the lubrication requirements of vehicles built by all of these companies, Locke said. He acknowledged that it would be difficult to do so in a meaningful and organized way and also that the industry has not shown that it is ready to tackle the problem.

The vast amount of activity around developing new tests for the upcoming PC-11 [heavy-duty diesel engine oil] spec [in North America] and ACEA 2014 specs has not allowed much time for incisive thought about the needs of Asia Pacific, which is why we have initiated this discussion, he said.

It is likely that a country as large as China represents the greatest opportunity, but the motor industry is very fragmented and working together will be challenging. Smaller Asian countries may continue to be well-served by the current API and ACEA specifications for some time. It is clear that this requires a detailed study by all stakeholders.