Who Will Pay to Play in Fuel Economy Testing?


SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Time is running out to join in the auto industrys initiative to fund the development of a new fuel economy test for engine oils via a pay-to-play option. So far, the effort has received a full commitment of $300,000 from each of the four major chemical additive companies, but support from the engine oil industry has been less widespread.

The new Sequence VID (six-D) engine test is expected to be a cornerstone of the next gasoline-fueled engine oil category, called GF-5, now being created by the ILSAC/Oil Committee. Thisgroup includes representatives of the engine oil industry and of ILSAC, an auto industry association that focuses on lubricant issues.

At a Jan. 10 meeting here of the new ILSAC/Oil Fuel Economy Task Force, only two oil companies – Shell and Chevron – expressed likely support of the pay-to-play option, while ExxonMobil declined. The time period for participating in the VID consortium has been extended to Monday, Jan. 30, to allow more participation.

ExxonMobils reasons for declining were made clear at the meeting. With previous ILSAC GF categories, new test developments were funded by the test sponsor, the companys Doug Deckman pointed out. Additive companies via the American Chemistry Council and oil marketers via the American Petroleum Institute funded precision, base oil interchange and viscosity grade read-across matrices. In addition, additive companies and oil marketers conducted expensive and lengthy engine test programs to develop products meeting new ILSAC GF categories. These products benefited both consumers and OEMs.

ILSAC GF-5 will contain several new engine tests, he continued. The Sequence VID consortium development approach could set a precedent for development of other test for this and subsequent categories. We believe industry would be better served by establishing a total category development cost for ILSAC GF-5 prior to requesting companies to make a financial commitment.

Deckman added, We also would support further consideration of other alternative category-funding mechanisms. This could include up-front test funding by independent test laboratories, who would then recoup their investment with returns based on category and product development testing by industry through a per-test fee. Individual companies could be requested to commit to a minimum number of tests, to mitigate risks to independent test laboratories.

While there were no widespread expressions of support for the pay-to-play option from oil companies, only ExxonMobil voiced any fundamental opposition. Moreover, Deckman told Lube Report after the meeting, We are still considering the option of joining the consortium and will make a decision before the end of the month.

A recurrent theme was that the issue needed more time for debate and consideration within individual companies. BPs Rick Tittel noted, At $300,000 per company the barriers to entry for this project are very high, and I have concerns with its exclusivity. Perhaps if the entry amount were less, say $200,000, more companies would be interested.

Lubrizols Lew Williams was emphatic at the meeting that his company did not oppose the pay-to-play concept in principal, but thought the current proposal needed further work. At the core of Lubrizols concern is the strong desire that its in-house laboratory be able to participate in developmental and precision testing.

Lubrizol has decided, after much discussion, to fund the Sequence VID test development consortium at the full $300,000 in-cash level, Williams told Lube Report. We remain committed to support the OEMs and oil marketers in lending our considerable expertise on fuel economy formulating and testing to the consortiums efforts.

Infineums commitment to the pay-for-play option was likewise reaffirmed following the meeting by Kevin Poindexter, its PCMO global products manager. He told Lube Report that his company supports the consortium proposal. It appears to provide an opportunity to develop a new fuel economy test in a timely and cost effective manner, respecting the climate of limited money and resources for such an effort.

Afton Chemicals Tom Cousineau also verified that his company had decided to fully participate in the VID pay-to-play effort. We have supported the consortium concept from the beginning, he said, and have recently been exploring ways to include our laboratory in the process.

Chevron Oronite also has decided to opt in, the Task Force meeting heard. Should its sister company Chevron Global Lubricants alsojoin the consortium, that will make Chevron one of the biggest pay-to-play donors to the VID development cause.

In addition to the auto companies desire to cut costs, they are concerned that the time to complete the new test is getting short, and a financially committed core group of companies could take faster decisions towards completion.

Mike McMillan, recently retired from General Motors and now a consultant with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, pointed to a successful precedent. General Motors sponsored the GF-4 Sequence IIIG test, he said, but we moved all the test development activities to the two independent San Antonio labs. GMs technical people and the ASTM Surveillance Panel worked closely with the labs, with decisions made in a small, focused group. The process worked very well.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, a schedule for developing the VID test was offered by Ben Weber of Southwest Research Institute. He presented a timeline beginning this month with the establishment of common engine-build practices, and moving through a total of 10 defined steps. Final documentation of the test procedure and its presentation to ASTM for consideration as a standard would come in April 2007.

Another meeting will be held Feb. 7 in Detroit, with the first meeting of the final pay-to-play contributors and establishment of the core test development consortium the following day, Feb. 8.

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