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Need to Know


Understanding the Canadian lubricants market begins with understanding the Canadian people. They make the market, in a way thats quite unique in North America.

To start, Canadians are proud people – for good reason. They invented kerosene, the electron microscope, self-propelled combine harvesters, Skidoos, insulin, snowblowers, the antigravity suit, zippers, the BlackBerry, to name a few. And although most believe that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Canadians can take credit for this as well. Henry Woodward of Toronto, along with Matthew Evans, patented a light bulb in 1875 and sold the patent to Thomas Edison some years later.

Sports? Canadians can proudly say they invented basketball, not to mention putting Steve Nash on the hardwood to win the National Basketball Associations Most Valuable Player title in 2005 and 2006. In addition, they can stake claim to the first- and second-highest scorers in hockey history, Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, and to bringing home the Stanley Cup 34 out of the last 62 games.

Canada has also given birth to many actors and singers, including William Shatner, Keanu Reeves, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Pam Anderson, Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, and Shania Twain, to name a few. It has turned out Nobel laureates such as Richard Taylor, David Hubel, Lester B. Pearson and 15 others, and is the homeland of one of the most flamboyant, charismatic and controversial figures in politics, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

So whats this got to do with the Canadian lubricants business? In a word, its about pride. Pride in Canadas heritage, its people, what they do, and how they do it. Rather than focusing on me and how to get a raise at work, Canadian end users focus on we and how to make their companies and country better, say those who sell into this market. Canadian end users also are said to focus more on product quality and the cost of ownership than on the price of lubricants. In addition, they have a much greater tendency to comply with OEM specifications and recommendations to assure they get it right.

This is seen in Canadas passenger car engine oil market. Close to 90 percent of Canadas passenger cars have their oil changed at do-it-for-me (DIFM) outlets, mostly new car dealerships. Granted, the cold temperatures in Canada make it less desirable for a DIYer to slide under a car to change oil, but the primary reason DIFM is so large in this country is because Canadians prefer professionals to change their oil because they do the job right.

Natives like Imperial Oil, Shell Canada and other Canadian-based lubricant manufacturers know this and tend to focus on the high end of the market by selling quality long before they mention price. And why not? Canadians are quality-conscious buyers. And their pride is intense when a home-grown company like Petro-Canada links up with an OEM. Petro-Canada partnered with General Motors and Afton Chemical to develop the new GM Dexron VI service-fill ATF specification, which is slated to replace Dexron III worldwide by the end of December.

Of course, Canadas lubricants market is shaped by the countrys climate, too. Canada has cold winters, hot summers and everything in between. This is a demanding environment for lubricants, and one with a notable appetite for synthetics, synthetic blends and other specialty lubricants. Canadians were also quick to embrace 5W-30 as their favorite viscosity grade for PCEO. Its now approaching 50 percent of demand.

Winter presents a challenging environment for Canadian people, the vast majority of whom are clustered near the U.S. border. This too has a very significant impact on the lubricants market because it concentrates nearly 80 percent of lubricant demand within 150 miles of the United States. With such concentrated demand, direct delivery by the oil majors is practical. As a result, an estimated 57 percent of the lubricant sold in Canada is moved to market directly by the majors.

The balance is moved by distributors, who tend to be single-branded and allied with the majors in a relationship reminiscent of what the U.S. supply chain looked like 25 to 30 years ago. Interestingly, aside from the smaller size of these distributors, the relationship Canadian majors have with their marketers is what U.S. marketers had in the past and are looking for once again; its called alignment.

So there it is. The Canadian lubricants market: pride, quality, dedication and innovation. Yet the last of these may ultimately have the greatest impact on the lubricants market. Thats because Canada is the also the home of Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Ballard boldly says it has The Power to Change the World.

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