It’s Official: Lube Sales Stank in 2003


Lubricant sales volumes in the United States fell 3.6 percent in 2003, according to the latest annual report from the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. It marked the third consecutive year of declining demand in the worlds biggest lube market.

The 2003 Report on U.S. Lubricating Oil and Wax Sales, released Oct. 21, showed total demand of 2.5 billion gallons last year. Its comparative data also indicated that demand fell across all major categories. Sales of automotive lubricants were off by 3.4 percent from 2002, industrial lubes by 3.6 percent.

Within the industrial segment, comparative sales of general industrial lubes shrank by 3.9 percent, industrial engine oils by 4.7 percent and process oils by 4.2 percent. Demand for metalworking fluids was nearly flat, dipping 0.1 percent. Grease sales dropped 4.5 percent.

NPRA stresses that its comparative data includes only companies reporting in both of the years being compared and may be used to assess year-to-year sales trends.

Last years decline in lubricant demand followed decreases of 0.5 percent and 3.3 percent in the 2002 and 2001 reports, respectively. In 2000, sales were flat.

There is evidence, however, that the slide may have ended. Earlier this month NPRA reported that sales during the second quarter of 2004 were 3 percent higher than the same period of 2003, ending a streak of at least 13 consecutive quarters in which sales dropped year to year. The associations quarterly report showed sales for the first half of 2004 down 0.2 percent from the first half of 2003. The quarterly reports are based on information from a smaller pool of companies than the annual report, and are therefore considered less reliable.

The association said the number of independent lubricant suppliers responding for the new annual report was up significantly from the previous two years. The group says the annual report captures 95 percent of actual lube sales in the United States and is the markets most comprehensive gauge.

As in years past, the 2003 report breaks both the automotive and industrial segments into detailed subcategories. It showed the gasoline engine oil market continuing to edge away from 10W- multi-grade oils in favor of 5Ws; 5W-30 and 5W-20 together accounted for 28.5 percent of category sales in 2003, up from 25.1 percent in 2002.

Among general industrial oils, turbine and circulating oils had the biggest drop, falling 16.8 percent from 2002. Sales of hydraulic oils and fluids, compressor oils and rock drill or air tools lubricants all slid around 6 percent, comparative figures show.

In the process oil category, sales of rubber, white and ink oils all increased, while other types fell off by double-digit levels.

The 2003 report is on sale for $25 to NPRA members who did not participate in the survey and $300 to non-members. The 71-page document is free to members who did participate. For information, go to

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