Panel Puts Wrap on GF-4


With a final retort to complaints from independent lubricant blenders, the committee drafting the GF-4 passenger car motor oil specification voted last week to adopt the standard.

After approving the specification Thursday at a meeting in Detroit, ILSAC/Oil Committee members said they had received information rebutting independents concerns about base oil availability and the schedule for phasing in GF-4.

Our role was to write a specification that would accomplish certain things while making sure the playing field [for the motor oil market] remained fundamentally level, said committee Chairman Bob Olree, of General Motors Powertrain. We said all along that we were doing that, and this information bore that out.

GF-4 raises the bar on several performance parameters, requiring motor oils to improve fuel economy, to better protect engines, to cause less harm to air emissions control systems and to last longer at higher engine speeds and temperatures.

Now that ILSAC/Oil has completed its work, the standard must be approved by ILSAC (the International Lubricant Standards and Approval Committee) and the American Petroleum Institutes Lubricants Committee, representing automakers and lubricant companies, respectively. Those groups have tentatively discussed a schedule that would call for API to begin licensing GF-4 oils to display its starburst trademark July 31.

Work on GF-4 began in 2001, and automakers originally wanted oils meeting the standard brought to market by the fall of 2003. ILSAC/Oil decided in mid-2002 that that schedule was too ambitious and postponed implementation until this year.

The specification sparked controversy right up to the end, drawing complaints mostly from the Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association and the Automotive Oil Change Association. ILMA warned that GF-4 would require so much Group II base oil that demand would exceed supply, leaving independents without the raw material needed to stay in the market.

The association also said that the tentative phase-in period is too short. ILSAC/Oil and APIs Lubricants Committee have considered having API cease licensing of GF-3 oils April 30, 2005 – nine months after initial licensing of GF-4. ILMA contends that may not be enough time for additive companies to obtain approvals for packages sold to independents.

During a telephone interview Monday, Olree said ILSAC/Oil received information that should allay both concerns. First, an additive company submitted data for a demonstration 10W-30 oil made with 50-percent Group I and which met GF-4 requirements. A second company provided data showing a demonstration oil made with 100 percent Group I that could pass the III-G test, a key requirement of GF-4. Olree said this data, submitted anonymously, supported ILSAC/Oils repeated assertions that Group II supply will meet demand.

This shows that were not causing a significant upheaval in the market, he said. I wont deny that demand for Group II is going to increase, but its not going to be a radical change.

Olree said additive companies advised that they will have packages for independents tested, approved and available in time for the first-licensing target date of July 31.

The additive companies have certainly always come through in the past, he said. [Independents] will have to ask for them, but I see no reason why [package availability] should be an impediment.

ILMA made it clear that it remains concerned that its members will be adversely affected by GF-4 and the schedule for implementing it. Even under the best scenario, legal counsel Jeffrey L. Leiter said, the new standard will significantly reduce the amount of Group II oil sold on the spot market.

Some of our members make a significant amount of their Group II purchases on the spot market, and I think the spot market is not going to be there, Leiter said. So those members need to be doing everything they can to lock down that supply now.

ILMA has also raised the specter of filing unfair trade complaints with the federal government if its members cannot get the base oil they need, or if automakers make motor oil recommendations at independents expense.

We reserve the right to take our case to the Federal Trade Commission, he said.

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