GF-4 Stays on Track


ROMULUS, Mich. — Sept. 4 saw the end of the 30-day comment period for the new gasoline engine oil quality upgrade, GF-4, with no technical impediments in sight that would derail the currently planned first API licensing of the oils in July 2004.

On Sept. 11, ILSAC/Oil met to review the comments received. ILSAC/Oil is the six-person ad hoc committee created to develop GF-4, representing U.S. and Japanese automobile manufacturers and the petroleum industry. It is chaired by Bob Olree of General Motors. The committee had approved final GF-4 test limits on Aug. 4, and submitted the draft specification to industry for comment (see Lube Report’s Aug. 6 issue).

The comments aired at this meeting, ILSAC/Oil’s 20th, fell into three general areas: minor technical and editorial comments; one thorny technical issue; and harsher opinions regarding the new oil’s market impact.

First, the minor technical adjustments and editorial comments were dealt with expeditiously and with very little discussion. A subcommittee was set up to evaluate and recommend the most precise test methods for measuring sulfur and phosphorus from among the currently available methods, for example.

Next came a technical issue which had surfaced before and also came up repeatedly in the comments: the “oil consumption correction equation.” It is being taken very seriously by the industry.

General Motors’ new Sequence IIIG engine test measures high-temperature wear and oxidation; it will replace the current IIIF test. Nearly a hundred IIIG tests have already been run on candidate GF-4 oils. However, different levels of oil consumption have shown up and some lab-to-lab variations have appeared in several dozen calibration and evaluation runs of this test.

Oil consumption is important because when the volume of oil in the engine system decreases during the test run, the remaining oil will get thicker; the viscosity will increase. GF-4 test limits allow a 150 percent maximum increase in kinematic viscosity over the 100-hour test duration. If there is relatively high oil consumption, some oils, while passing all other test parameters, will fail the viscosity increase measure simply because the test’s tendency for excess oil consumption resulted in higher viscosity increase than allowed.

In addition, the low-temperature viscosity requirements of the used oil from the IIIG test, as evaluated by the Mini Rotary Viscometer (MRV TP-1) bench test, may fail GF-4 limits. Statistical analysis has shown that viscosity increase and the MRV test results are highly correlated with final oil consumption.

Two approaches to the IIIG’s oil consumption issue are under way. First, hardware improvements including smoother cylinder walls and pistons rings have been shown to decrease oil consumption and reduce variability. If this hardware refinement is successful, the second approach, an oil consumption correction equation, may not be needed.

Still, a correction equation continues to be deeply investigated. A detailed statistical analysis of existing data has been completed and further work, including up to eight evaluative IIIG test runs financed by the American Petroleum Institute and the American Chemistry Council, is planned. The goal is to develop an equation which can be applied to the results of each test run so as to reduce variability. This equation, if it is accepted, will not change the actual draft specification limit of a maximum 150 percent viscosity increase; the specification already allows a “correction for oil consumption” factor.

Lubrizol’s Lew Williams has participated in the evaluative work to date. “API and ACC have each committed up to $140,000 to conduct the eight additional IIIG tests but only if current work indicates they are necessary,” he noted. Williams thinks a resolution of this issue “should take five to seven weeks.”

The final set of comments included a clutch of primarily marketplace concerns presented by two trade associations, the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association (ILMA) and the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA).

ILMA represents independent and generally smaller lubricant manufacturers and marketers. It is concerned that “the proposed limit [for GF-4] will eliminate the use of Group I base stocks,” it said. “The availability and affordability of Group II base stocks becomes a real issue.” ILMA states that use of GF-4 oils will result in increased oil consumption in older vehicles in the marketplace — especially SAE 5W-20 grade oil, which it believes is being encouraged by automobile manufacturers.

ILMA also said it believes that “the 10-month period to obtain approval for GF-4 oils is too short.” Under current plans, engine oils that do not meet GF-4 limits will not be licensed by API after April 2005. Both the short period for approvals — one year has been the goal in the past — and the effective elimination of Group I base stocks by the GF-4 specification “may be effective restraints of trade for which lubricant manufacturers and marketers may need to seek redress,” the group warned.

Weighing in more sharply was AOCA, which represents 3,000 fast-lube facilities. It labeled the upgrade “a recipe for disaster,” and focused on issues of price, the too-early phasing out of GF-3 oils, the negative effect of higher GF-4 costs, and the consequent threat to the economic viability of fast oil-change outlets.

“The ‘Needs Statement’ goals will not be achieved with the proposed GF-4 standard,” the group contended. Specifically, “product testing fails to demonstrate backward compatibility with the pre-2004 vehicle fleet.” Seal leakage and other wear issues in older vehicles will “cause the new GF-4 specification to fail in application” and “it would be irresponsible to recommend backward use without further testing,” it stressed.

The high cost of GF-4 oil will encourage longer drain intervals, too, AOCA said. “The overriding factor in choosing automotive services and correlating products tends to be cost,” it argued. “If fast lube service cannot be provided for a ‘reasonable’ fee customers are likely to extend their oil change intervals regardless of what may be recommended in their owner’s manuals,” thus hurting the operating efficiency of their vehicles and any potential fuel economy or emissions benefits of the oil upgrade.

“Price matters more than the starburst,” the group said, referring to the trademark used by API and automakers to indicate the most up-to-date engine oils. “AOCA can tell you that the average consumer doesn’t know what the starburst means… Consumers don’t particularly value the starburst.”

ILSAC/Oil’s response to both the ILMA and AOCA letters was to acknowledge their receipt and the concerns expressed. Valvoline’s Thom Smith, one of three oil company representatives on ILSAC/Oil, noted, “It is important to have strong technical documentation particularly regarding the impact of GF-4 on Group I base stocks.” He said, “ILSAC/Oil has asked the industry for a demonstration oil containing Group I and has requested ExxonMobil to update the committee on the supply/demand scenarios of Group II base oils under GF-4.” An official letter of acknowledgement will be sent to each organization from Chairman Olree.

However, ILSAC/Oil said it would offer the industry another opportunity to comment on the specifications later in the year.

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