Automakers Consider Replacing API for Oil Licensing


As the deadline to begin work on the next generation of passenger car engine oils presses ever closer, an impatient auto industry says it has approached another organization about replacing the American Petroleum Institute as the world’s engine oil licensing agent.

In early November, General Motors’ Mike McMillan presented a “take it or leave it” proposal to API’s Lubricants Committee, stating the auto industry’s final position on how to revamp the engine oil upgrade process (see Lube Report, Nov. 28). On behalf of the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee, which represents U.S. and Japanese auto makers in the lubricants arena, he also asked API to respond by year’s end.

On Dec. 5, McMillan again reviewed ILSAC’s proposal, this time with ASTM’s Passenger Car Engine Oil Classification Panel, ASTM’s primary technical review and approval body. He noted that ILSAC’s initial proposal had been presented more than a year ago.

The auto industry is exceptionally concerned about this process because concrete steps must be taken very soon to insure that GF-4, the next passenger car engine oil upgrade, will be available in 2004. The approval of API SL/GF-3 oils slipped two years beyond what the auto industry originally proposed, but no slippage is possible for GF-4, ILSAC insists; tough new emission limits go into effect in 2004 and new hardware to meet these limits requires new engine oil.

As chairman of ILSAC, McMillan reiterated that his group strongly supports an industrywide certification and licensing program, a user friendly symbol and an aftermarket audit program. Currently, API provides these services at a cost of $2 million annually.

If, however, API doesn’t agree to ILSAC’s final proposal those functions could be undertaken by someone else — and ILSAC has already talked to one organization as an API alternative. McMillan declined to identify the organization, but there are few groups with the stature and industry credibility to undertake this kind of program. One is SAE, which was the leading candidate for this function until API elected to do it in 1994.

Another option might be for each auto company to develop separate specifications, along with a company symbol, similar to the current system for automatic transmission fluids.

API has some leverage of its own, however. The Memorandum of Agreement establishing its Engine Oil Licensing and Certification Program states that if either side — API or the auto industry — pulls out of the agreement the “starburst” logo, which API owns, dies.

All U.S. auto manufacturers recommend oils displaying the “starburst” in their owners’ manuals and have done so since 1995. Eliminating it or replacing it with another symbol would be a major undertaking.

Classification Panel Chairman Frank Fernandez, of Chevron Oronite, told the Dec. 5 ASTM meeting that API had been invited to discuss ILSAC’s proposal, too, but had declined because it had not yet formulated a position and such participation would be “premature.”

Note: The author is a former API employee, and was involved in establishing its Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System in 1994.

Related Topics

Market Topics