Market Topics



Last year, sales of cars and light trucks in the United States – with its 300 million people – reached 16.9 million units, according to J.D. Power Associates. Another 2.7 million units (defined by the market research firm as passenger vehicles under 6,000 pounds) were sold in the rest of North America.

Across the Atlantic, the 23 countries forming the European Union hold 462 million people and saw sales of 20.4 million cars and light trucks in 2005.

Whichever side of the ocean youre on, thats a lot of vehicles to maintain, so automakers are not reticent about their engine oil needs. Recently, LubesnGreases interviewed the principal technical groups representing vehicle manufacturers in the development of engine oil standards on both continents.

This month: ILSAC, the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee, active in North America

Next month: The Fuels and Lubricants Working Group of ACEA, Europes association of automobile manufacturers

ILSAC – the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee – was formed in 1987 by what was then North Americas Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association. Much of the impetus for its formation was to put pressure on the oil industry, which the auto manufacturers at that time were at serious logger-heads with. In their opinion, it was taking far too long to introduce new engine oils (e.g. eight years to create the API SF category!), and the lubricants industry lacked aggressiveness in upgrading its technical specifications.

Displaying open disdain for the American Petroleum Institutes donut because it thought the public didnt understand it, ILSAC created the GF (Gasoline Fueled) engine oil series, along with an evergreen starburst logo to provide consumers with an understandable symbol to seek when buying engine oil. To date, four iterations of the GF series have been issued – from GF-1 in 1992 to GF-4 in July 2004 – and ILSAC now is hard at work on GF-5, looking toward a 2010 debut.

LubesnGreases was invited to attend ILSACs semiannual meeting, Oct. 12 in Southfield, Mich., and to present questions to representatives of U.S. and Japanese auto companies. Though not a member of the group, a representative of Volkswagen also sat in on the meeting.

LnG: Please rank the three major technical issues facing ILSAC.

Hannah Murray (Toyota): Everyone would probably include meeting emissions standards, improving fuel economy and maintaining durability as the top three. However, our environment does not allow us to prioritize, we must do all of them. We dont have a choice.

ILSAC Chairman Jim Linden (General Motors): Sure, we must meet emissions standards, we know that and we do. But the three issues Hannah noted are equally important to us. There is no ranking. However, Id point out that while fuel economy has been an important issue for many years, it is becoming much more important. And we are responding to that need with the development of a new test, the Sequence VID [Six-D], to measure the fuel economy effect of all engine oils, including those which are highly friction-modified.

LnG: How much do necessary trade-offs during technical negotiations impact on emission standards, fuel efficiency and durability issues? Which issue suffers?

Chris Engel (DaimlerChrysler): We tend to disagree with the way that question is asked because it implies that there must be significant trade-offs in the engine oil development process. For example, we believe you can reduce the phosphorous volatility of todays engine oils and ultimately improve emissions performance without impacting other engine oil performance parameters. You just need to be careful.

Mike Riley (Ford): Durability will never be sacrificed. We will always insist on the same level or an improved level of wear protection. But it remains to be seen what the effect of chemical SAPS [sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur] limits will be.

Tracey King (DaimlerChrysler): Some of our colleagues in the oil industry put considerable emphasis on the concept of tradeoffs. Theres certainly give and take when formulating an oil, but just because youve done something a certain way in the past doesnt mean you cant do it differently in the future.

Bob Olree (General Motors): The necessity of tradeoffs is a presumption of some people and its a distraction. A real world example is the issue of phosphorus, which can poison catalysts but is also a terrific antiwear component. When you lower it you preserve the catalyst but lessen the oils wear protection ability, so it is said. But we are now engaged in an attempt to develop a phosphorus-retention standard and maybe we will come out with a win-win approach, maintaining wear protection as well as emission system protection.

The key here is new technology by the oil and chemical additive companies. Gosh, when you look at the tests that were running a decade ago for just 40 hours and the situation now, it is a totally different world. The oil and chemical additive companies have made stunning progress in that time period, although I have to say they expressed great doubt back then that it was technically possible to do what they actually did accomplish. We believe they can develop additional new technology to give us win-win situations. That is a key issue.

Linden: But for us to encourage the development of new technology it helps to push the oil and additive companies toward new technology. We wont get there without letting them know what we need.

LnG: Does the fact that the producers of engine oil, API, own the API Service Categories and the donut as well as the ILSAC specifications and the starburst, make a difference to you, the users of engine oil? Does producer ownership have any impact in timing or content of engine oil specifications?

Olree (displaying a copy of ILSAC GF-4): First off, we developed this specification and we own it. Period. Thats our name on it. On oil containers you will see ILSAC GF-4 referred to, not API GF-4. Yes, they have legal ownership and publish their own Service Categories, but the API SM service category is, from a technical perspective, a derivative, a modification, of the ILSAC document. Thats the bottom line, although we do negotiate in good faith with them. Legal ownership doesnt make a difference to us or to customers. We develop the ILSAC specs which is the foundation light duty engine oil document.

We would hope that API would use our ILSAC specifications as a template for their light-duty categories. Unfortunately, that didnt happen with API SM; the two standards are not the same and that adds to marketplace confusion.

LnG: If ownership is a non-issue, what is the major issue?

Olree: An organization that serves the interests of engine oil consumers. ILSAC specifications are a single minimum oil quality standard which all ILSAC members concur with and reference in their owners manuals. The ILSAC system has resulted in the marketing of extremely good engine oils at very low prices.

LnG: The Engine Manufacturers Association joined ILSAC a number of years ago. During the intense technical discussions during the development of the recently approved API CJ-4 heavy-duty engine oil category, I never heard ILSAC mentioned once. How come?

Olree: ILSACs current mandate is light-duty engine oil specifications only, for cars and light trucks. To date, heavy-duty diesel engine oil specifications have been developed totally differently, in ASTM committees, not here in ILSAC. Heavy-duty ILSAC engine oil standards could be developed since ILSACs mandate does not preclude it, but EMA has chosen not to pursue this route.

However, we are now significantly involved in working towards a light-duty diesel engine oil specification. EMA may very well have an interest in this potentially new category and participate with us in the future as we develop it.

LnG: Why hasnt ACEA joined ILSAC? All ILSAC member companies have European operations.

Olree: Their system is different from ours. Doesnt mean one is better than the other, just different. Well both end up at the same place – fuel efficient, aftermarket compatible, long-drain oils.

In the U.S., ILSAC mem-bers develop tests and all members and oil and additive marketers agree on proposed limits for a single, minimum oil quality standard. That single, common GF or API Service Category standard is referenced in owners manuals and API certifies oil and does an aftermarket audit program.

In Europe ACEA members develop tests and agree on limits, ACEA issues specifications and oil companies self certify oils. Almost all individual European vehicle manufacturers modify the ACEA Sequences to meet their own technical needs and primarily reference their own oil specifications rather than ACEA Sequences in their owners manuals.

Karl Freund (Volkswagen): Our service environment is different. One reason is that our oil drain intervals are longer and call for specific oils. So most oil changes are done in what we call dealer workshops, where owners can be assured that the correct oil will be put into the car. We have no quick lubes.

LnG: How does ILSAC make decisions, voting or consensus?

Linden: We are a consensus organization. We meet twice annually face to face, and much more frequently by video conference.

Murray: Our consensus process is one of the strengths of ILSAC.

LnG: Dont the negotiations in this room tend to result in lowest-common-denominator specifications?

Murray: On occasion we do have items that we simply cant accept above or below a certain level. In that sense we do tend toward a lowest common denominator.

LnG: ILSAC member companies have global operations. How much does the non-North American market, for example, ACEA, influence your approach to developing new quality upgrades, for example, GF-5?

Olree: Heres an example which I used at the last ILSAC/Oil Committee meeting where we are working with the oil and chemical additives companies on developing GF-5. I pointed out that vehicles built here are sold in Europe and vice versa, and they all need the same piston deposit protection. So, yes, we are alert to the worldwide implications of what we do and are certainly influenced by European requirements.

LnG: What is your approach to aftermarket lubricant additives, which none of your companies recommend and some condemn?

King: Highly skilled chemists develop engine oil formulations and they are rigorously validated. We strongly recommend against putting anything into these fully engineered products.

Freund: Dealers in Europe dont put aftermarket additives in a vehicle. And when an oil costs $10 or more a quart, its important to customers that the manufacturers recommendation is followed. Oils are formulated and branded by oil companies to specifically meet the technical requirements of individual companies, and that information is on the container.

Linden: We do not believe there is a need for aftermarket lubricant additives. But as ILSAC weve not taken a formal position. Individual companies have their policies.

Olree: Its illogical to put anything in a carefully formulated and highly tested engine oil. But it happens. We are also aware that some dealers may use aftermarket lubricant additives. All our member companies ask them not to, but they are independently owned, its a free country, and people are able to do what they want, even stupid things.

Further Amplication

In Octobers issue, Kishore Nadkarni commented that ISL was first to commercialize a Noack volatility instrument that did not use Woods metal. Gordon Cox of Tannas Co. sets the record straight with these facts: Our sister company, Savant Inc., published a paper in 1993 which presented research and development of the first Noack instrument that eliminated Woods metal as a toxic danger in the lab. The work was partially covered by Patent #5,692,832, filed in 1995 and issued in 1997. After development in Savant, Tannas commercialized this non-Woods metal Noack, with the first domestic sale in 1995 and the first overseas sale in 1996.

To its credit, Cox adds, ISL was faster than Tannas in generating a round robin and proposing a new ASTM method. This became D 5800 Procedure B. Later, after Tannas had sold a few more units, it was able to complete its own round robin and the Tannas Selby-Noack was added to ASTM D 5800 as Method C.