API SN Ballot in Limbo

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When API approved the ILSAC GF-5 passenger car engine oil specification in December, approval of the new API SN category in time to launch alongside GF-5 seemed like a foregone conclusion. The reality so far has been different.

The American Petroleum Institutes Service Category SN and SN Resource Conserving ballot has bogged down over revisions sought by automakers, bringing into question whether the new category can still launch at the same time as ILSAC GF-5 in October.

Products meeting GF-5 will be licensed beginning Oct. 1, 2010, and can start displaying the Starburst logo on their labels on that date.

API SN will be an upgrade of the current API SM category, identified by the API Donut trademark. It aims to address the full spectrum of engine oil viscosity grades, including those not covered under the ILSAC specification, such as SAE 10W-40. SN Resource Conserving will replace the current SM Energy Conserving designation. If the API SN and API SN Resource Conserving categories had been balloted successfully, they would have begun licensing on Oct. 1 as well.

However, feedback from automakers has been uniformly negative, with some threatening to withdraw support for the API licensed oils entirely if the category is not aligned to GF-5 in areas such as phosphorus content and deposit control.

The API Lubricants Committee deliberated over the API SN category ballot, originally issued Jan. 8, most recently during March 11 and 19 teleconference calls, with input from OEMs.

Some key sticking points remain for the committee to consider, including revisions OEMs have suggested for SN requirements, API engine oil licensing manager Kevin Ferrick told Lube Report. These include adding an 800ppm phosphorus limit, requiring the TEOST 33C test for high-temperature deposits, and testing emulsion retention in all SN oil viscosities. In response to OEM comments about the initial SN ballot, API suggested adding elastomer compatibility into the SN requirements, too.

Unless theres a desire to go back to the original balloted version of SN, youre going to have a re-ballot, and then well see from re-ballot whether timing has become a significant issue, Ferrick explained. If companies feel like the timing is a problem, then we might have to delay [initial licensing].

He noted that the Lubricants Committee, which hadnt fully voted on the category, proposed some modifications based on OEM comments. The Lubes Committee has received a counteroffer from Ford, Chrysler and GM, and theyre giving it some consideration and considering what their next options are, he continued. If the committee and OEMs dont approve SN and SN with Resource Conserving, the next step in the process would be to raise this as a discussion point within the Administrative Guidance Panel. The committee has scheduled a business meeting for March 24.

Washington, D.C.-based API has periodically gone to the AGP in the normal course of action, according to Ferrick, for example if it wants to propose a change for its audit program. If theres an impasse, then for sure you go to them to try to resolve it, Ferrick said. The idea is hopefully you come out with recommendations to go forward.

The organization would need to allow 30 days notice of the AGP meeting. The participants involved could probably agree to a shorter timeframe if they needed to, he added.

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