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You have to give the American Petroleum Institute, SAE International, and U.S. And Japanese automakers credit. They work hard with industry stakeholders to establish performance standards for engine oil. Once the standards are established, API deserves even more credit for its Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System. This system includes the API Service Symbol and Certification Mark to help consumers identify the optimum engine oil. API also conducts field testing and audits to spot-check quality and claims.

Credit should also go to General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, ZF, Voith, Eaton and other automotive OEMs who establish quality and performance standards unique to their transmissions. They work hard to assure only appropriate transmission fluids are available on the shelves at retail stores, fast-lube centers, car dealerships and elsewhere. Also, lets not forget the many OEMs in the industrial market segment like Sundstrand, Vickers, Angelus, Carrier, Dunham-Bush and Tecumseh, to name a few. They each establish performance specifications and publish approved lubricant supplier lists specific to their equipment. This too helps assure the performance of lubricants in use.

The Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association should also be given credit. Through its enforceable Code of Ethics, ILMA is showing a commitment to promote integrity and quality among its membership.

We should also tip our hats to the states of North Carolina and California. North Carolina is the only state that has a lubricant quality auditing program. And California has taken steps to assure that its residence dont unknowingly pick up a container of obsolete SA product when they shop for engine oil.

Lubricant manufacturers and marketers deserve accolades too for their efforts to assure the caliber of lubricants in the marketplace. Many are ISO-9000 certified, they fieldcheck to assure the quality of repackaged lubricants, and they work tirelessly with additive companies, OEMs and base stock producers to optimize performance.

And last but not least, the additive and base stock manufacturers deserve credit for their efforts. They spend big bucks on research and development and world-class quality assurance programs to assure peak performance of lubricants in the marketplace.

So why is it, with so many organizations, associations, classes of trade, certifications, quality symbols, product approval lists, and even states with such good intentions, that we have what some say is a growing volume of low-quality, offspec lubricants in the marketplace? Why is it that the unsuspecting consumer can still easily find and unknowingly use API SA engine oil unfit for cars since the 1930s? How is it that the label on a bottle of engine-harming SA/SC category engine oil can say Super Premium and sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the shelves with designer brands? And do you think its simply a misprint, or intentionally misleading when an engine oil label displays the letters SM with no reference to API, or cites API SM, SL, SJ and Energy Conserving without saying the product is actually API-licensed or meets ILSAC GF-4?

Moreover, what kind of lubricants market are we in when seemingly reputable suppliers say although they hate to sell the stuff, they really have no choice but to sell low-quality tractor-hydraulic fluid, bar-and-chain oil and others if they want to compete in some of the more price-sensitive segments of the business? And beyond that, how to answer when a marketer asks, How can some sell engine oil at a price below the costs for base stocks and additives, let alone the added cost of blending packaging and distribution?

Whereas the answers to each of these questions are different, the message is the same. That is, although a number of responsible and respected associations, OEMs and industry stakeholders are working hard to assure that top-notch lubricants are made available to consumers and end users, many believe the volume of low quality/low performance lubricants in the marketplace is growing. (And as a market researcher, you can be sure if we could nail down just how large this volume is and how fast it is growing, such a study would be a hot property.)

As youd expect, few if any say they make or sell low quality/low performance lubricants. Most of Petroleum Trends sources, however, say that offending products are increasingly visible, and the sellers of this juice are becoming more emboldened.

So this is the first in a series of columns on what appears to be a growing volume of off-spec, lowquality lubricant in the marketplace. Some may blame the economic realities of a free market, but the fact is these practices are intentionally misleading.

The goal here is to bring attention to – and possibly help head off – what looms as an unwelcome reality, if our industry does not do a better job of policing itself. That would be a world where a higher authority steps in to exert control and protect consumers. And maybe a world where ultimately only the major brands are trusted, because of a few bad apples.

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