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We are now hard into the development of the next gasoline-fueled engine oil category, ILSAC GF-6. At the same time were also developing an improved process for developing the American Petroleum Institutes S category engine oils. Whole lotta development going on here!

The GF-6 performance standard should provide improvements relative to todays GF-5 engine oils in the following areas: 1) fuel economy and fuel economy retention; 2) engine oil robustness, with performance levels required to protect engines in all global markets; and 3) maintaining overall durability, including adjusting some chemical limits without sacrificing performance. GF-6 is expected to be introduced in 2016 so its not imminent, but the entire industry is watching carefully as the heavy lifting gets under way.

APIs S category for passenger car engine oil is being upgraded, too, from the current API SN category. What to call this new category? API SO is out of the question because API doesnt want a so-so category. Unofficially, the API Lubricants Group is using SP when needed, but that wont be official until they ballot GF-6 – which is years to come. (If you reference it before then, you should always use quotation marks around SP to show it is tentative.)

One improvement Ive seen already is the number of meetings being held to keep the ball rolling on these performance upgrades. GF-5 and API SN were approved in mid-2010, but the ink was barely dry before the auto companies raised the need for GF-6. Step one was to form a joint committee of automotive and lubricant company representatives. There have been 10 meetings of this Auto-Oil Advisory Panel through April 2013. Of course, some of those meetings were spent organizing themselves and the process, but its still a good thing, since the more the disparate players get together the more likely theyll be able to iron out differences. One AOAP participant told me, GF-6 is moving along because were still three years away and none of the new tests have reached the stage for industry testing. So basically, nothing to argue over yet.

Engine test development work is ongoing, as well. Compared to GF-5, the new category will have basically all new or revised engine test protocols.

One of the more interesting situations is with the engine test for oil thickening and wear, the Sequence IIIG. API wants all engine test procedures to be under ASTM control, with the related reference oil and severity guidelines in place. General Motors (which sponsors the Sequence III test, supplies its engines and has been key in developing the test procedures) has indicated that it will be adopting a new in-house test for these parameters, and it doesnt plan to submit this test to ASTM to manage. As a result, Chrysler is now working on an engine test to measure wear and oil thickening. This test will use current reference oils and Chrysler says it plans to have the test correlate with the Sequence IIIG. From there, limits based on new reference oils can be established.

Ford meanwhile is working on the Sequence VH to measure engine deposits. This replacement for the Sequence VG test will also include a timing-chain-wear component, which is a new addition. Ford also is working on a low-speed pre-ignition test. Independently, Southwest Research Institute has established a consortium to study the pre-ignition issue and will report its findings later this month during the ASTM Committee D-2 meeting in Montreal.

Toyota is working on a Sequence IVB valvetrain wear test procedure, replacing the current Nissan Sequence IVA. An engine has been selected and initial test sequence defined. Test development is said to be progressing on time.

GM also sponsored the Sequence VIB test to measure an oils fuel economy contribution when new and after aging. This tests engine was being discontinued, however, putting an end to the VIB. The replacement Sequence VID (or maybe VIE) will use a model year 2012 GM engine, and 166 have been purchased for GF-6. An ASTM precision matrix for this test possibly could be performed this year.

Another new wrinkle in GF-6 is the incorporation of a new, lower viscosity grade, SAE 16. The revised SAE J300 Engine Oil Viscosity Classification Standard has just been issued, with SAE 16 included. Designed for fuel economy, this grade has even lower kinematic and high-temperature/high-shear viscosity than SAE 20. Honda is a strong champion of the new grade in various multi-viscosity formats, and now recommends SAE 0W-16 for its newest models. But as I explained in Septembers column, SAE 16s HTHS viscosity limit is so low that it could lead to serious damage in older engines. GF-6 will try to reduce this risk by having two versions: GF-6A, which will be backwards compatible for older model vehicles, and GF-6B which will not.

Some in the industry (me included) remain concerned that such a low-vis engine oil leaves the door open to premature engine failures from wear. Honda presented a study it had done on this question at the April AOAP meeting. Its goal was to verify the validity of the ILSAC GF-6B standard for SAE 0W-16 oil, using a prototype 0W-16 compared to SAE 0W-20 in current GF-5 bench and engine testing.

Hondas test used an SAE 0W-16 oil made with a commercial detergent-inhibitor additive package. It found the oil demonstrated equivalent or superior engine protection in GF-5s tests, versus SAE 0W-20. In the Sequence VID test, Honda said, the new grade also delivered better fuel economy than SAE 0W-20.

The introduction of SAE 16 leaves API with an identification problem. While APIs Donut symbol will handle the new viscosity grade without difficulty, the API Starburst is another story.

API began licensing the Starburst logo in the early 1990s in answer to OEM concerns that vehicle owners would somehow get the wrong oil into their engines. The automakers felt that a typical motorist was not able to use the more technical Donut to select the right oil based on API category and viscosity information. In addition, they felt that fuel economy benefits were not properly addressed by API category designations.

The Starburst trademark is intended to simplify all that by signaling that an oil covers the most recent engines and also is backwards compatible to older engines. This system seems to work fairly well and there have been few complaints about using the wrong oil quality.

With the introduction of the SAE 16 viscosity grade, the game changes. Likely, the Starburst will still designate oils meeting GF-6A – oils that are backwards compatible and have HTHS viscosity limits consistent with those for SAE XW-20 and SAE XW-30 viscosity grades. But what about GF-6B oils like SAE 0W-16, with their even lower HTHS limits? Most OEMs are not recommending them, so the Starburst wont cover them either.

AOAP has been struggling with how to differentiate GF-6A from GF-6B. Nothing has been decided but one proposal is to alter the Starburst symbol for GF-6B oils only. To date this is just a proposal and far from being implemented, but it seems to have some momentum. The actual idea is to print the viscosity grade (e.g. SAE 0W-16) inside the Starburst. One benefit is that when the industry gets around someday to defining SAE 12, we wont need a new Starburst – just to change the viscosity grade.

Note that under this scheme the Starburst for GF-6A oils would remain the same (no viscosity grade shown in the logo). The intention is to separate the traditional ILSAC viscosity grades from the new ones.

One last issue is occupying the AOAPs attention, and it is one with which most oil marketers are wrestling: What to do about universal oils. These are the products labeled as suitable for both gasoline and diesel engines, such as API CJ-4/SM. The OEMs want these oils to disappear and they have some pretty sound reasons why. The API C category oils are designed for heavy-duty diesels, not gasoline engines. Typically, they have higher phosphorus levels and more volatile types of phosphorus than those in gasoline engine oil formulations.

There is also concern about whether or not C category oils are optimal for gasoline engines, since some gasoline engine tests are waived for C category approval. And of course there is always the fuel economy issue: C oils are typically higher-viscosity oils which will nullify any fuel economy gains to be had from lower viscosity.

The OEMs have proposed that the present system of piggybacking S categories on C category motor oils be discontinued. In the API Donut symbol, they contend, a C category should never be followed by an S category unless the oil meets all testing requirements of that category and the 0.08 percent phosphorus maximum limit. Theyre also recommending editorial changes in API 1509, the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System document.

So thats whats coming and when it will get here – but there is still a lot of ground to cover and a lot of negotiation, confrontation and finally consensus-building to be done. If you know people who are directly involved in this process, give them all the help you can. Theyll appreciate it. The road to GF-6 will be a hard slog but will benefit us all in the end.

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