Shell Goes After Off-brand Lubes


A third-party independent laboratory began testing motor oil samples from Shell installers in Detroit this month, part of a Shell Lubricants campaign to crack down on installers who substitute off-brand or out-of-specification lubricants for the branded products they claim to use.

The product quality program went into effect in Detroit July 1 in conjunction with a local-market customer appreciation tour. Shell plans to launch the program in New York City and Dallas in a couple of weeks. We expect by the end of the year its probably going to be up to around the 50 top cities where we have the program going, Luis Guimaraes, general manager for Shell Lubricants North America marketing, told Lube Report.

Pennzoil, Quaker State and FormulaShell installers are automatically enrolled in the product quality program, according to Shells program brochure, and it is conducted at no cost to them.

Guimaraes noted that over the last couple of months, Shell Lubricants had noticed some growth in people using its signage and the Pennzoil-Quaker State brands to promote their businesses. When we were checking that, they were not always using Pennzoil-Quaker State products, he said. We see thats probably driven by the recession and by some people trying to cut corners in order to keep their business running, which in the end doesnt help them and doesnt help the consumer – people are not getting what they are paying for. We decided it was time to really step in, and make that very clear to consumers and to all our loyal customers, that we will protect the integrity of our brands, and the quality of our products, and do it practically.

Shell uses a special marker in the motor oil, rather than a colored dye, Guimaraes continued. Its a kind of identity print, as we have as human beings, he explained. You can trace the marker back to our core formulation, the core components, and really make sure that this is our product. We have done over 100 [sample tests] already, so were very confident we can really identify the different type of oils vis a vis our own products, including when the products are mixed.

The marker enables Shell to trace the concentrations of the different components used in the motor oil. On Pennzoil we [track] the cleaning agents that are unique to our formulations; therefore, that component is identifiable because no other company uses that, he cited as one example.

If the product sampling shows the installer is not complying with product standards, he said, Shell Lubricants is taking action, which can include signage removal, or other legal action.

We have done that a couple of times already, in different parts of the country – in all of them we have been successful, Guimaraes stated. Its a very simple proof: Youre selling Pennzoil or Quaker State, and then you are installing a different product. And for the ones that are really doing what they are promising, there is a thank-you for their business, and we are supporting them with additional tools and support.

After launching the product quality program in Detroit, New York and Dallas, Shell plans to progressively roll it out to other areas. We think it will be good to focus on the areas that have a stronger propensity to have this type of problem, he explained. We thought it would give us a good combination of understanding how the program works, and how its going to help us roll out to some additional cities as we progress across the country.

Guimaraes said the product quality program is part of a three-tier campaign that also includes an upcoming new certified installer program, and a consumer education program whose main component includes a web site,

The site provides basic consumer education about motor oils in general, including terminology, and emphasizes the importance of using quality motor oil brands that meet key specifications and requirements. We have tested several low-quality products that dont have the basic qualities a motor oil should have, like starting temperature in cold climates, or even meeting basic GF-4 specifications, he added.

He added that the company is working to bring aboard commercial associations and consumer protection groups such as the Better Business Bureau. Shell Lubricants is also working with the legislatures in some states on simple steps to help protect consumers.

For example, a motor oil product and its specifications arent obliged to go on the invoice, Guimaraes pointed out. So people can put motor oil, 10W-30, and thats it. Its very difficult for the consumer to trace, and make sure [the installers] have used the oil the consumer paid for.

Shell is discussing with some legislators the benefits of requiring that the invoice show the motor oil brand, viscosity and specification, he continued, so the consumer is assured that the installer used the brand and type of motor oil promised. If it hasnt, he can really go after that specific installer and complain, Guimaraes said. We want to make sure we implement practical ideas that are going to help the consumer, the owner/installer and the industry overall.

The new certified installer program, which will be launched later this year, will highlight participants on both the Pennzoil and Quaker State web sites. It will also promote them with a seal of approval program that will help consumers identify Shell Lubricants certified installers.

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