Korean Group Calls for Engine Oil Standard

A consumer advocacy group urged the South Korean government this month to set standards for synthetic engine oils after complaining that existing products do not contain as much polyalphaolefin as consumers expect.

The Korea Consumer Agency, a government body, issued the call on Nov. 1 while announcing results of tests it commissioned of 43 oils currently offered in South Korea. The agency trumpeted the findings that none of the oils contained more than 20 percent PAO and that several contained none, including one with PAO in its name.

Only 10 products, all domestic products, have details about base oil content on their labeling, the agency said in a press release. The other 33 products carry no base oil information at all. This is misleading consumers to believe that so-called synthetic oils are made completely [from PAO] or are very high in PAO contents.

An official told Lube Report that the agency is aware that the industry, throughout much of the world, recognizes API Group III base stocks as synthetic. But the agency contends it is acting based on expectations of South Korean consumers, who expect that the term synthetic implies significant PAO content.

It was not clear if the agency was calling specifically for a standard that would require PAO content in engine oils marketed as synthetic.

There was a time when the term synthetic was reserved for engine oils made with PAO and not just mineral base stocks. That changed after a 1999 arbitration ruling by the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau in the United States. In a finding against the former Mobil Oil Corp., now part of ExxonMobil, NAD concluded that Castrol could legitimately refer to one of its engine oils, a product containing Group III but no PAO, as synthetic because Group III provided synthetic like performance.

The number of synthetic engine oils proliferated in recent years, and many were formulated with Group III, which is substantially cheaper than PAO.

The Consumer Agency did not reveal test results on particular products but disclosed the names of all products covered by the recent testing. They included GS Caltex Kixx PAO, SK Lubricants Zic X9, S-Oil Seven Gold, Hyundai XTeer Top, Mobil 1 ESP Formula, Valvoline Turbo CX10, Castrol Edge Titanium, Profi Car PAO FS, Mitasu SM SN and Shell Helix Ultra AM-L. The agency commissioned The Korea Petroleum Quality & Distribution Authority to conduct the testing but did not identify the procedure(s) that it used.

The Consumer Agencys concerns were not limited to PAO content. It noted that national law requires products made with at least 70 percent mineral oil to undergo quality inspections by K-Petro or to obtain Korean Industrial Standards certification. Fourteen of 17 foreign products did not have either.

At this time, South Korea does not have specific regulations regarding use of the terms synthetic or PAO in consumer publications. It called on the nations Ministry of Industry, Trade and Energy to make regulations and standards about labeling, advertising and product content for synthetic engine oils. It is necessary for consumers right to get informed and choose from variety of products, the agency said.

The agency found that imported oils as a group were priced 2.2 times higher than domestic oils. Domestic products were priced 4,409.74 won (U.S. $3.91) per liter, while imported brands were an average of 9,982.35 won per liter.

South Koreas automotive lubricant market is estimated to be worth 170 billion won, and products made with mineral base oils account for roughly 95 percent of the market, according to CMRI, achemical market research and consultancy in the country.Synthetic engine oils, yet to take off in the country, are finding an audience in owners and drivers ofluxury, imported vehicles.