ExMo Extends Oil Drains to 15,000 Miles


The highly competitive, $3.4 billion U.S. lubricant market has a new entry with the potential to upend the sales volume assumptions it has operated under for decades. Following two intensive and secretive years of work, ExxonMobil yesterday unveiled a new line of motor oils that offer guaranteed engine protection for change intervals of 5,000, 7,500 and 15,000 miles.

With the rollout of its quartet of products – Mobil Clean 5000, Mobil Clean High Mileage, Mobil Clean 7500 and Mobil 1 Extended Performance – the company claims to be the first oil company to introduce a line of high-endurance motor oils designed for longer oil change intervals, as recommended by many automakers today. That may be overstating it a wee bit (for example, Amsoil Inc. of Superior, Wis., for decades has sold a line of synthetic oils offering guaranteed performance and long drain intervals), but Mobil is the first major brand to make that leap – and its new line up includes both mineral oil and synthetic based formulas.

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The new products achieve their lengthy drain intervals by boosting the level of cleaning performance – to help extend engine life and help prevent the formation of sludge and other harmful deposits.

The four new products respond to a previously unmet consumer need by guaranteeing performance and protection for 15,000, 7,500 or 5,000 miles, stated Mike Mullins, vice president of marketing at ExxonMobil Lubricants and Specialties in Fairfax, Va.

The company said it created the products in part because consumers are receiving mixed messages from OEMs and installers and clarity is needed. Automakers have begun recommending longer oil change intervals and motor oil performance has also been boosted; yet, many new car owners have become confused about exactly how long their motor oil can last.

Consumers want oils that guarantee protection for the longer oil changes they are experiencing, it said – and they can understand a straightforward performance claim, such as proven protection for an X-thousand guaranteed miles, added Automotive Marketing Manager Habib Quazi.

Engine oil labels, including Mobils, for years have cited performance benefits including extending engine life and preventing the formation of sludge and deposits. What is different with this line is the explicit reference to and guarantee of engine protection, in miles of service. Other than Shells Jiffy Lube Divisions longtime 3,000-mile recommendation, no major oil company has offered change interval advice for over a decade. Instead, they tend to tell consumers to follow their vehicle owners manuals recommendation. Specifying a discrete oil change interval may break this logjam.

According to ExxonMobil, oil change intervals have grown from an average 3,600 miles to reach 4,300 miles in the past 10 years. Should drain intervals increase to an average 7,500 miles, it would result in a substantial decrease in annual engine oil sales. The company did not estimate the potential volume decrease, but if there is less used oil discarded as a result of the introduction of these products, thats a positive impact on the environment, ExxonMobil Automotive Marketing Advisor Jeff Jones said. Our consumer research indicates 30 percent of consumers will extend their drain intervals.

ExxonMobils consumer research found that 90 percent of drivers said they would use a motor oil that guaranteed to protect for 7,500 miles between changes. And seventy percent of interested consumers indicate they do not intend on increasing their oil change interval. But consumers who do go longer between oil changes want an oil that provides guaranteed engine protection and peace of mind, said Jones.

About 55 percent of oil changes in the United States are done by installers, such as quick-lube outlets, service stations and auto dealerships. The other 45 percent are performed by individual Do-It-Yourselfers.

While ExxonMobil is particularly targeting the Do-It-Yourselfer segment, the offer is also designed to be a premium offer to the installed channel, said Quazi. For installers, these products start out with a very strong, core additive package which exceeds the GF-4 requirements, said Tom Olszewski, the companys technical advisor, automotive lubricants. And then we have a boosted level of performance beyond our bulk installed offer, which now is going to be called Mobil Clean. This product is offered only to installers and is not in the retail aftermarket.

The Line Up
Two of Mobils new products are conventional mineral oils, one is a synthetic blend, and one, Mobil 1 Extended Performance, is a fully synthetic formulation with 36 percent more anti-wear additives and 37 percent more cleaning agents than current Mobil 1 formulations.

This product also boasts an “Advanced SuperSyn System,” with 50 percent more SuperSyn, ExxonMobils proprietary high-performance synthetic component, to guarantee engine protection for 15,000 miles or one year whichever comes first.

New Mobil Clean 5000 and Mobil High Mileage oils use mineral oil base stocks and contain 16 percent more detergent additives than the previous formulation. The High Mileage product is formulated for vehicles with over 75,000 miles and is also guaranteed to provide protection for 5,000 miles.

The concept of a product specifically targeted for older engines was pioneered in 2000 by Valvoline, with its MaxLife product line, followed later that year by Quaker State (sinceacquired by Shell) with its Quaker State Higher Mileage Engine product line. Many other brands have jumped on the high mileage vehicle bandwagon since.

The synthetic blend offering, Mobil Clean 7500, is guaranteed to protect critical engine parts for 7,500 miles under typical driving conditions. It also contains 18 percent more cleaning agents than Mobil Clean 5000.

Each new product will be offered in either three or four of the more popular viscosity grades. All, except for Mobil 1 Extended Performance, are API licensed for the most current categories, ILSAC GF-4 and API SM. Mobil 1 Extended Performance is not currently licensed because it does not meet the fuel economy requirements of GF-4 as measured by the Sequence VIB engine test. It does, however, meet the engine durability and protection requirements of the specification. The company said it is doing a considerable amount of work to meet the fuel economy requirements while retaining the 15,000-mile guarantee. Technically its doable, said Olszewski, Were well under way and expect to get there.

All of the new products, he pointed out, also meet API CF performance. This is a diesel category but is also an indication of the higher level of the performance of the technology.

The formulating strategy for Mobil Clean 5000 and 7500 was to boost performance by starting from a new ILSAC GF-4/API SM formulation and using more cleaning additives and high-performance base oils. In addition to engine and bench tests in the laboratory, an extensive field test program was undertaken, using more than 50 vehicles. Weve explicitly taken advantage of our long formulation history and experience in developing these products, particularly Mobil 1 with a 30-year history, Olszewski noted.

Recommended Prices
ExxonMobils suggested retail pricing for Mobil Clean 5000 is $1.79 to $1.99 per quart. By comparison, a quart of the product it replaces, Mobil Drive Clean, costs $1.19 at Wal-Mart. Meanwhile Pep Boys and Wal-Marts own brands were just $1.19 and a super-low 88 cents, respectively, in Northern Virginia last week.

Mobil Clean 7500, the new synthetic blend, has a suggested price range of $2.49 to $2.69. Synthetic blend products of two other major oil companies were priced yesterday at $2.89.

Mobil Clean High Mileage oils have a suggested retail price spread of $2.29 to $2.49. Valvolines MaxLife for higher mileage vehicles was priced at $2.49 in Pep Boys and $2.24 in Wal-Mart; Quaker State Higher Mileage Vehicle oil was $2.18.

Mobil 1 Extended Performances suggested price range is $5.79 to $5.99 per quart. The current generation Mobil 1 sells for $4.99 at Pep Boys and $4.68 at Wal-Mart. However, Mobil 1 is the established synthetic oil category leader in sales worldwide, and commands much higher prices elsewhere – for example, $25 a liter in Europe.

Warranty Issues
Oil change intervals recommended by U.S. vehicle manufacturers have been increasing for a number of years, and European change intervals are higher still, with the average in Europe about 10,000 miles – more than double that of the United States. Moreover, Europes top-tier products – which include Mobil 1 – provide protection up to 20,000 miles.

The U.S. market is slowly edging in that direction, too. Fords and Toyotas oil change intervals are currently 5,000 miles for most vehicles, DaimlerChryslers are 6,000 miles, and Hondas have reached 10,000 miles.

General Motors alone among U.S. vehicle manufacturers does not make a mileage recommendation to its customers on when to change oil. Instead it relies on a proprietary oil life monitoring system (OLS) that informs a driver via a dashboard alert to Change Oil Soon.

GM evaluated a large number of oil samples from vehicles equipped with its system and found many cases where the oil had clocked more than 10,000 miles, a few with more than 14,000 miles and at least one with greater than 16,000 miles when the dashboard alert came on, according to GM Senior Project Engineer Robert Stockwell. These all were instances of oils using regular mineral oil base stocks, and in all cases when the alert appeared to Change Oil, the remaining oil life was within the expected safety factor, he said.

To address the issue of vehicle warranties, the back labels of Mobils new products advise that drivers of vehicles still under manufacturers warranty should follow the oil change interval guidelines set forth in their owners manual. A warranty is a relationship between a car builder and a consumer, Jeff Jones pointed out, and during the warranty period we dont want to get into the middle of that relationship. However,all consumers can benefit from a higher-performing oil such as the Mobil high-endurance line.

The new oils are for use under typical driving conditions – even stop-and-go commuting, the company said. The only exceptions, all listed on the back label, are racing and commercial use; frequent towing or hauling; extremely dusty or dirty conditions; or excessive idling. Except for the four exclusions shown on the back label, we guarantee protection for all driving conditions, Quazi said. Our product contains only these four disclaimers and the rest is normal consumer driving. Were trying to cut through the clutter, confusion and different messages that are in the marketplace.

Curtain Up
The oil giant developed its new products under a heavy blanket of secrecy. Competitive pressures compelled the company to limit access the project, and even within the company only a small group of employees was privy to its development. Now that the secrecy is being lifted, industry reaction is somewhat wary, as one would expect given the lack of information until now.

While ExxonMobil supplies oil for many new GM vehicles and GM specifically recommends Mobil 1 for its high performance Corvette sports cars, the automaker had no advance information on the new products. This approach appears to be a marketing initiative and were not comfortable with commenting on it without more specific technical information, Mike McMillan, manager of lubricating systems at GM Research & Development in Warren, Mich., told Lube Report.

From a technical standpoint, he added, we dont have any reason to deviate from our approach, that is, to calibrate our oil life monitoring systems, available on almost all of our vehicles, and make recommendations to customers based on the use of API-certified Starburst engine oil, as recommended in GM owners manuals.

Product Engineer Mike Riley at Ford Motor Co. in Canton, Mich., stated, The oil change interval for gasoline-powered vehicles is 5,000 miles/6 months for normal service and 3,000 miles/3 months for severe service which includes trailer towing, extensive idling such as taxi use, dusty conditions and off-road operations.

Riley added, Oil drain intervals should not be extended because repairs may not be covered by warranty. Ford recommends the same change interval for mineral and synthetic oil use.

An installer perspective came from Steve Christie, executive director of the Automotive Oil Change Association in Dallas, Texas, which represents 3,500 quick-lube outlets. We support anything that improves the consumers experience with their vehicles but we will continue to emphasize regular service intervals recommended by manufacturers because of the many other services and checks that are performed by our members during an oil change, including safety, belts, hoses and tire pressure, the latter of which is crucial to attaining fuel economy savings, he said. We also have some concerns regarding the ability of the oil filter to function properly for extended drain intervals; that issue piggy-backs with the well documented sludging problems weve seen with engines from several manufacturers.

Lew Williams, OEM and industry liaison representative at Lubrizol Corp. in Wickliffe, Ohio, noted, Performance improvements over GF-4/SM minimum performance levels are certainly possible in the areas of TBN retention, piston cleanliness, sludge, and oxidation protection. The key to in-service success is care in selecting the right combination and amount of additive boosters, viscosity modifier type and base oil blend. It is also necessary for these enhanced engine lubes to have extensive laboratory, engine and field testing under severe driving conditions to ensure end-user satisfaction.

Martin Kish, head of communications for market competitor Valvoline, in Lexingon, Ky., stated dryly, Like any new product or technical development, Valvoline will watch this development with interest and follow it as the new products enter the marketplace.

And Jiffy Lube spokeswoman Helen K. Bow, in Houston, said her company continues to advise consumers to stick to the advice in their vehicle owners manual. Any quality motor oil meeting manufacturer guidelines (GF-3 or GF-4) will have the ability to perform throughout the recommended drain interval, under normal driving conditions, which can be up to 15,000 miles, she stated. Consumers should note, however, that many drivers may not operate under what is defined as normal driving conditions. Many consumers drive under what the auto manufacturers refer to as severe driving conditions, which refer to excessive idling or stop-and-go traffic, rather than the ideal 60 miles an hour highway driving. Under severe driving conditions it would be better to go with the standard 3,000 mile oil change, or as detailed in your owners manual.

Two major automotive aftermarket retail chains declined to comment on the new products, for competitive reasons, although each was familiar with the new launch.

ExxonMobil plans a major promotional effort for this new initiative and will kick off a TV advertising campaign in conjunction with the NASCAR Daytona 500. Sources claim, but ExxonMobil declined to confirm, that plans are underway to invest $40 million to $50 million in a media push starting after the Daytona kickoff.

The company also declined to disclose details of its marketing program prior to the programs launch.

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