GF-4 Showdown Set for July 16


Development of GF-4, the new gasoline engine oil quality upgrade, was becalmed throughout most of the winter. Forward movement resumed in the spring and a budding optimism emerged that final GF-4 specifications could be agreed upon at last Thursday’s meeting of ILSAC/Oil – the joint committee representing automobile manufacturers and the oil and additive industries which is developing the GF-4 specifications.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, the auto industry’s International Lubricant Standardization and Approvals Committee (ILSAC), displaying an increasing level of frustration, brought a package deal to the June 26 meeting – a one-time, complete non-negotiable proposal that expires July 16.

This second ILSAC proposal is not meant to be a starting point for discussions about limits, Bob Olree of General Motors, chairman of ILSAC/Oil, told Lube Report after the meeting. “The starting point was the original proposal [over a year ago] and ILSAC/Oil has been discussing limits at meeting after meeting. If the Model Year 2005 commitment is to be adhered to, the specification needs to be defined now.

ILSAC has listened to everyone and took all the input from the interested parties into account in preparing this package deal. It’s very reasonable and is consistent with what we’ve been asking for from the beginning. If the limits are relaxed more, we will be back to GF-3 oils and will not [achieve] the needs outlined in the Needs Statement.

Olree added straightforwardly, We did not issue these specs as make-believe specs. They are doable; we’ve seen oils out there that can meet them.

None of the group’s automotive members – DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota – are happy with the package, Olree said, but all support it in hopes of reaching a consensus position and bringing the GF-4 debate to a close.

After more than a year of meetings, Olree said, there is no doubt that a great deal of progress has been made towards finalizing GF-4. However, the automakers have warned the oil industry that if the package deal was not accepted, ILSAC positions on individual issues will revert back to previous positions.

ILSAC’s expiration date for the package deal, July 16, is the date the American Petroleum Institute’s Lubricants Committee has set to meet at the Houston Intercontinental Airport Marriott, beginning at 7:30 a.m. API is closing the part of this meeting where it will provide guidance to its ILSAC/Oil delegates – that is, a response to the automakers’ deal.

Three sticking points can be seen for the new oil:

* As in previous upgrades, a major question in GF-4 is the amount of fuel economy which will be provided by different viscosity grades. This is one of the classic tradeoffs in engine oil design. It is difficult to attain a high state of piston cleanliness (measured by the weighted piston deposit parameter in the Sequence IIIG engine sequence test) and also a high level of fuel economy performance (measured in the Sequence VIB test). For the piston deposit measure, however, ILSAC has moved closer to API’s position.

* Second, again, is an issue from previous engine oil upgrades: the phosphorus content. This time, a minimum rather than a maximum limit is the holdup.

The Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association, a founding member of ILSAC, says testing has shown that both viscosity and phosphorus content affect timing-chain wear. For SAE 5W-20 oils, less than 0.06 percent secondary phosphorus ZnDTP does not provide adequate chain-wear protection. To combat this wear, JAMA and ILSAC are proposing that GF-4 contain a minimum of 0.06 percent phosphorus; JAMA might also develop a chain-wear test for GF-5 when work begins on that oil category. Meanwhile, API, which represents oil companies, doesn’t want any minimum set on phosphorus content.

* For the first time in gasoline engine oils, sulfur joins phosphorus in having a chemical limit. Maximum sulfur content for GF-4 oils will be 0.5 percent for 0W and 5W viscosity grades – causing some concern among oil marketers – and 0.7 percent for 10W, which is less controversial.

Shell Global Solutions’ Cliff Venier is one of two Oil representatives on the ILSAC/Oil Committee. Like Olree, Venier displayed a certain amount of frustration with the process. He was not at all pleased with the take-it-or-leave-it posture presented by ILSAC’s package deal.

It’s not negotiations, he said, and I’m sorry they did that because they have come a long way and much of what they have given we would take immediately. On sulfur we didn’t get everything but they have made a real concession. On fuel economy they’ve also given up quite a bit. The TEOST limit shows movement. The Sequence IIIG limits are very realistic. It’s not all we wanted but it’s clearly a real attempt on their part to get to closure and we are now very close.

The phosphorus limit of 0.06 percent minimum is a problem for oil marketers, Venier continued. The perceived need for a minimum is based on the timing-chain wear reported by JAMA. I’m not an engineer, but it appears that the problem arises only with direct injection engines at 1 percent soot. I understand that there are no direct injection spark ignition engines in the North American market today.

The real issue with a low phosphorus minimum is that it restricts everyone. Marketers might want to work on the chain-wear problem within the context of GF-4. With a phosphorus minimum you have to wait until GF-5.

Overall, Venier concluded, I’m very hopeful, and personally I appreciate ILSAC’s good-faith efforts.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals’ Glenn Mazzamaro represents the American Chemistry Council (the additive industry’s trade group) on the ILSAC/Oil negotiations. From an ACC viewpoint, he noted, the ILSAC offer is reasonable and not far off from many of our consensus positions. I was surprised that they were willing to split the sulfur specification by viscosity grade and encouraged to see them accept the 35 milligram TEOST limit. TEOST is a very important parameter for DaimlerChrysler, particularly. The minimum phosphorus issue, at 0.06 percent, now becomes primarily an API matter to determine, how strong their desire is to have no minimum phosphorus limit.

There’s other ways to approach this, he suggested. For example, if an oil marketer wants a 0.05 percent phosphorus oil, they can market an oil without the starburst, assuming API will have an SM category to go along with GF-4.

Although ACC has gone on record in the past supporting a 0.08 percent phosphorus design target for GF-4, we support API’s desire to market lower-phosphorus oils and will work hard to provide confidence that these oil will not harm existing vehicles in the fleet. And ILSAC’s new position on the fuel-economy-versus-piston-deposit tradeoff is pretty close to the ACC consensus position.

Overall, Mazzamaro added, I think they’ve come quite a ways and I’m very encouraged.

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