Lube Demand: Quality vs. Quantity


In forecasting lube oil demand, Cleveland-based Freedonia Group’s World Lubricants study illuminates a tug-of-war between two trends: Expanding manufacturing output and vehicle ownership rates support growing volumes in developing regions such as Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, and the Middle East, while higher-efficiency products restrain demand volumes in the mature markets of North America and Western Europe.

The study found that global demand for lubricants will increase 2.3 percent annually to reach a projected 43.9 million metric tons in 2017. Expected growth is supported by increasing industrial output and growing rate of vehicle ownership-particularly in developing countries, which will see above-average gains in lube oil demand.

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However, developed regions such as North America and Western Europe wont see much growth in terms of volume, but will instead realize an increasing demand for premium, higher-value products such as synthetic and bio-based lubricants, according to the study.

Asia tops the list of growing regions with a projected 4.1 per year percent increase in demand, reaching 19 million t/y in 2017. These gains will be spurred primarily by continuing shifts in industrialization in China and India, where Freedonia expects lubricant markets to expand by more than 5 percent each year. Paired with healthy growth in Indonesia and Thailand, this will lead to the Asia Pacific region accounting for more than 43 percent of total world demand by 2017, which the study says will be by far the largest regional share.

Engine oils constitute the largest share of lubricants consumed, particularly due to motor vehicle aftermarket demand. However, global volume will be under pressure due as premium products featuring longer-drain intervals become more abundant in developed economies. North America and Western Europe experienced drops in demand of 1.9 percent and 2.6 percent respectively from 2007-2012. While the study expects that these regions will experience little-to-no growth in volume over the next five years, those supplying these regions will benefit from increased sales of premium products.

Process oils and hydraulic fluids will experience the fastest gains across product categories. The rapidly expanding automotive industries of developing countries in the Asia Pacific region will drive demand for tires, and subsequently, rubber process oils. The study also expects that growth in the plastics industries in the Middle East will lead to a shift from reliance on crude oil to a heavier dependence on chemicals and other industries.

High-performance hydraulic fluid demand will grow across all regions of the world, Freedonia found. An increase in newer, more advanced hydraulic systems operating at higher temperatures, higher speeds, and higher pressure will call for better-performing hydraulic fluids, such as synthetic and bio-based fluids that can offer longer lifetimes, increased tolerance to extreme conditions, fire resistance, and adherence to environmental regulations.

Environmental regulations play a large factor in lube oil demand trends, the study found. Many developed countries are increasingly enacting regulations on lubricants, particularly high-loss lubricants such as two-stroke engine oils, chainsaw oils, drilling oils, rail lubricants, marine lubricants, and some hydraulic fluids. The study foresees the likelihood of increasing demand for bio-degradable lubricants in developed countries.

Freedonia also found that metalworking fluids containing chemicals such as chlorinated paraffins and formaldehyde condensates are under increasing scrutiny due to their potential to harm workers who may come into contact with them through skin exposure or inhalation. Governments in developed countries may begin putting increased regulatory attention on these fluids, leading to shifts in demand.

WORLD LUBRICANT DEMAND (000 metric tons)

Annual Growth





Lubricant Demand




1 %

2.3 %

North America




-1.9 %

0.4 %

Western Europe




-2.6 %





4.1 %

4.1 %

Central & South America




2.3 %

2.4 %

Eastern Europe




0.7 %

1.8 %





2.3 %

2.6 %

Source: The Freedonia Group Inc.

The 477-page World Lubricants study is $6,300 from the Freedonia Group. For more information, visit

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