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HOUSTON – The American Petroleum Institutes Lubricants Committee has taken a tentative first step on a new path for creating engine oil sequence tests. Under the proposed scheme, only those organizations that contribute funds to develop an engine sequence test would have input into decision-making – in short, pay-to-play.

Creating engine tests traditionally has been the responsibility of whichever engine or vehicle manufacturer initially identified the need for such a test (the test sponsor). The sponsor develops the methodology and supplies the engine hardware – often at a cost of millions of dollars. As the test advances, the effort widens to include input from groups such as ASTM, the American Chemistry Council and API. These groups also help fund matrix testing, to establish the new tests precision. But the up-front costs are still shouldered by the test sponsor.

So it was with some hesitation, and a nod to a number of outstanding issues, that API conducted a straw poll at its Nov. 7 meeting here, asking how to fund future new test development. There were seven votes in support of the process currently used to fund precision test matrices, one vote for individual companies making contributions to ASTM Surveillance Panels, and seven votes supporting the new pay-to-play initiative.

The auto industrys lubricants group, ILSAC, also supported pay-to-play. Each voting representative expressed support for having any new test developed as an ASTM standard.

Why Now?

The impetus for this informal vote was a proposal from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to develop a new fuel economy test for gasoline engine oils, to be called the Sequence VID (Six-D). Todays fuel economy test, the Sequence VIB, is not as rigorous as vehicle manufacturers would like for GF-5, the gasoline engine oil upgrade thats due near the end of this decade. (An earlier attempt to improve the test, tentatively titled the VIC, was abandoned.)

Consultant Mike McMillan, who retired last summer from General Motors, presented the Alliances proposal to API. If a suitable mechanism for funding Sequence VID development is not identified, and a new VID test is not developed, he cautioned, ILSAC will have to consider other options for ensuring improved fuel economy for GF-5 – such as retaining the Sequence VIB at increased fuel economy limits and adding a bench friction test requirement such as the High Frequency Reciprocating Rig, which measures wear and lubricity.

Or, he added, we might require a five-car vehicle test to demonstrate fuel economy performance of oils. (That could be far costlier for each oil marketer, of course.)

McMillan went on, Vehicle manufacturers believe there are additional fuel economy benefits available from engine oil. He noted that ILSACs main concern with the current VIB test is its inability to fully predict the fuel economy benefits actually obtained in Federal Test Procedures. In part this is because federal test procedures use a number of engine types to establish fuel economy, versus the single engine used for the VIB.

GM is working now to develop FTP fuel economy data on a matrix of oils picked by a joint oil and automotive industry task force, he pointed out. These data will be used as the basis of correlation for a new Sequence VID fuel economy test. If successful, this new Sequence VID test would be used in GF-5 for specifying engine oil fuel efficiency improvements.

Hurry, Hurry

Prior to the meeting, API had distributed a VID funding option survey, but it received only five responses – two from oil companies, two from chemical additive companies, and one from ILSAC.

After discussion, voting for the pay-to-play option generally broke down along industry lines. As noted, ILSAC favored pay-to-play. Additive companies also endorsed or leaned toward the pay-to-play option, as did oil major Shell Oil.

With only one other exception, the oil companies all voted to fund the new test by tapping the fees API collects for its Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System (EOLCS).

This approach is a logical extension for oil companies. Earlier in this decade the Lubricants Committee changed its governing document, API Publication 1509, to allow for a wider use of EOLCS licensing fee income. By doing so, API member companies can avoid the need for individual special assessments; this approach has been used to fund matrix testing for the last three engine oil upgrades. The pay-to-play option, however, would require interested oil companies to contribute individually toward test development, rather than collectively using the resources derived from licensing fees.

Lubrizols Lew Williams highlighted a stark inconsistency in the pay-for-play option. Everyone has agreed that the new test should be ASTM-sponsored, he pointed out. However, ASTM has specific requirements that allow anyone who wants to participate in test development to do so by offering comments during open meetings. That requirement seems to be at odds with the pay-to-play concept, where only those organizations that have contributed a set level of funding may participate in the test development.

API Lubricants Committee Chairman West Alexander, of Chevron, observed, There is probably a way to work out the concerns … including addressing the ASTM open-participation requirement.

McMillan acknowledged the concerns, suggesting that the pay-to-play approach would be used only to develop a preliminary test which would then be turned over to ASTM for development into an ASTM standard test. The plan would be for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to put together a consortium to fund development (according to the pay-to-play model) of the preliminary Sequence VID test.

The goal would be to complete development of a preliminary test, probably by the third quarter of 2006, he stressed. We need to work fast on this, if we are to meet the timetable outlined for GF-5 by the ILSAC/Oil Committee.

A Glance to History

While APIs pay-to-play vote was not binding, it brought the issue of how to pay for new engine tests to the fore.

The traditional engine test development pattern – where the OEM who wants the test pays to create it – has been redrawn before. It was modified with the development of the General Motors-sponsored Sequence IIIF, and diverged even more with the next iteration of this test, the IIIG, which measures high-temperature deposits, wear and oxidation.

Encountering significant technical problems in controlling cam and lifter wear during the development of the Sequence IIIG, GM went to work with the two independent testing laboratories in San Antonio, PerkinElmer (now part of Intertek Caleb Brett) and Southwest Research Institute. This informal task force became known by the threesomes initials, GPS. In addition, the parts supply company, OH Technology, took part in the effort.

All IIIG test development was transferred from GM facilities to San Antonio, and the considerable technical resources, facilities and the hardware of both PerkinElmer and Southwest Research were harnessed. Funding was primarily by G, with contributions in kind by P and S, plus the technical resources of the ASTM Surveillance Panel.

Approximately $1.5 million was spent in developing the Sequence IIIG through the GPS process, and after intensive work to achieve adequate wear discrimination, the IIIG was approved by ASTM. It is now the centerpiece test in the GF-4 specification.

Its no secret that U.S. automakers are encountering significant financial pressure and are attempting to retrench wherever possible. Moving the bulk of new test development to independent laboratories makes sense for them, from both a financial and technical perspective.

Developing new options to pay for test development is a logical follow-on, the auto industry believes. Whether the oil and additive industries agree should make for an interesting year.

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