2011: Brief Pause in Oil Upgrades


After the turbulent introduction last year of three new passenger car engine oil categories – ILSAC GF-5, API SN and GM’s Dexos1 – 2011 seems idyllic.

Enjoy it while you can, says Pat Fetterman of Infineum USA, because the next few years will see mounting pressure on those who develop, test and manufacture engine oils. Test development will be a key focus in both passenger car and heavy-duty sectors, along with the need to keep up with rapidly changing needs for transmission fluids and marine engine oils.

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“2011 really is an in-between year and will see no major category introductions,” Fetterman, said last week. “Adoption of ILSAC GF-5 is near completion as most marketers have introduced the new quality level, but discussion on critical issues concerning engine test replacement and needs for a new category have already begun.”

Fetterman, the additive company’s industry liaison advisor, spoke with Lube Report as he was putting the finishing touches on Infineum Trends, an annual review of automotive lubricants and technology drivers. “When you see the Infineum Trends show, you will see the various opinions regarding ILSAC GF-5 and how it impacts the consumer as well as the various industry stakeholders. The biggest concern is replacement tests that must be created and put in place in the next few years if the entire system of passenger car engine oil categories is to survive.”

The presentation notes that among the at-risk engine tests are the Sequence VG test for low-temperature sludge, and the Sequence IIIG test for high-temperature deposits, ring sticking and oil thickening. Eric Johnson of General Motors has pointed out that the Sequence VID test for fuel economy also will need replacing by 2014.

If development of these and other tests can be managed, however, the oil industry may be able to preserve its new GF-5 category for some time, Fetterman believes.

“We could simply replace some of the expiring engine tests in GF-5, then keep the category alive,” he said. “Just bringing in a replacement test doesn’t require a new category. You can have an alternative test, so the VG and the VH for example could have some severity level that allows them both to support GF-5.”

While work on developing replacement tests proceeds, a parallel effort to define the needs of a new category can be started, he suggested. However, without proper engine tests to define engine oil performance, developing new technology for any oil category, either old or new, cannot be done. The industry also must ensure that modern hardware is protected, Fetterman added, and that may require development of completely new tests.

A bigger worry, he added, is that by the mid-decade period – 2015 to 2016 – oil companies could find themselves trying to upgrade both passenger car engine oils and heavy-duty diesel engine oils at the same time.

“At the latest Diesel Engine Oil Advisory Panel meeting, we heard the heavy-duty engine folks say they were looking at needing a new engine oil category in the 2015-to-2017 time frame. It would be extremely challenging for our industry to do light-duty and heavy-duty categories at the same time,” Fetterman said. The complexity of the work probably requires about a two-year separation so industry can properly focus on the needs of each category, he said.

Test development work also looms on the diesel side. In the Trends presentation, Bengt Otterholm of Volvo Powertrain cautions that the heavy-duty Volvo D12D test is running out of parts. The Mack T-12 test also is nearing its end of life, and so is the Cummins ISB test.

“Personally, rather than try to develop three or four tests all at once, I would like to see us begin work sooner on replacement tests,” said Fetterman. “The Mack T12, for example, could advance to the T13, and the Cummins ISB test can move to a 6.7-liter engine platform. If we get working on it ahead of time, we may be able to extend the life of the API CJ-4 category.”

While the heavy-duty segment is rife with hurdles, he continued, the growing interest in better fuel economy should be viewed as an opportunity by those who can help advance that goal – such as lubricant marketers.

“The Diesel Engine Oil Advisory Panel has spent a lot of time talking about this,” he said. “Heavy-duty OEMs believe that they’re in good shape through 2014, but then something may happen. By 2017, technology-forcing targets could come into play, and then you could see some changes in lubricant characteristics. One change might be lowering high-temperature/high-shear and removing the 3.5 centiPoise limit.”

Marketplace acceptance of lighter-vis diesel oils (such as SAE 10W and even 5W multigrades) is another possibility, as are greater use of friction modifiers and new demands for oxidative stability and biodiesel compatibility. “One effect of biodiesel is that it promotes higher levels of lead in used oil, and so the desire to lower that will drive the diesel industry to demand very high-quality oils,” Fetterman observed.

Changes of such magnitude may prompt calls for a new API heavy-duty category, but can the industry handle it if it coincides with a light-duty category need? “It’s a matter of dollars and cents, people, lab space,” he replied. “It’s a lot of work to do two categories at once. The costs are enormous – every time we go through a test development matrix, like we did for the CJ-4 category, the industry spends several million dollars for each test, and then at least $100 million for the overall industry to reformulate.”

In addition to these issues, Infineum Trends 2011 will spotlight the latest vehicles and technologies on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Finally, added Fetterman’s colleague, market manager Steven Haffner, “we will look at issues in base stocks: supply and demand; the impact of gas-to-liquid base stocks; Group III base oil interchange; and the effects on base stock supply of moving to lighter viscosity grade oils. The show will also take us around the world to look at emerging markets, with a focus on China.”

The Infineum Trends presentations will kick off on April 2nd at the ILMA Management Forum, and then head to the Detroit area (April 7), Houston (April 12) and Wichita, Kans. (May 11). In all, Fetterman anticipates doing over 30 shows, including one in Asia Pacific later this year. To register to attend a show, e-mail laura.thomson@infineum.com.

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