Delays Dog Upgrades


To those of a humorous bent, the prospect of creating four distinct passenger car engine oil upgrades in quick succession-ILSAC GF-6, API SP, ACEA 2014 and Dexos1:2015-could bring to mind the comedy Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray found himself endlessly reliving the same, mind-numbing events of one calendar day.

Its no laughing matter, though, for the automakers, lubricant marketers and additive companies who have lived with repeated frustration over the past four years. Technical issues have dogged each attempt to move ahead, and U.S., Japanese and European participants are still buried in drifts of ill-behaved data, years after they hoped to be done.

The good news is that there have been some successes, reports Eric Johnson, industry liaison for General Motors Fuels and Lubricants Group. Speaking to the ICIS Pan American Base Oils and Lubricants Conference on Dec. 2, he pointed out that General Motors has a strong interest in all the engine oil upgrades named above.

Worldwide, GM sold 9.8 million cars and light trucks in 2015 (the last full-year data available). That included 3.61 million units in China, 3.08 million in the United States, and almost a million more in Brazil, the United Kingdom and Canada combined. All told, thats a 12 percent share of global vehicle production, which is estimated at 80 million units a year.

Like other automakers, the company has adopted a global platform for its vehicles to make its plants and supply chain more efficient, Johnson said. It also pays close heed to demands for fuel efficiency and emission reductions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set Corporate Average Fuel Economy at 35.5 mpg for the 2016 model year sales, and 54.5 mpg in 2025. (These targets were reaffirmed by the EPA in early January.) Emissions limits are stiffening, too, with new cars allowed only 163 grams of CO2 per mile in the U.S. by 2025 (versus 250 grams today) and just 95 grams per mile in Europe in 2022.

To reach these goals, GM and other original equipment manufacturers are improving their internal combustion engines while developing alternatives like hybrids, fuel cells, electric cars and biofuels. You can also expect them to continue to press the lubricants industry for performance gains.

As Johnson observed, todays principal engine oil categories, ILSAC GF-5 and API SN, were introduced in 2010. By November 2011, with the ink barely dry on these newly minted categories, automakers were back to ask that the next upgrades be readied for the American Petroleum Institute to license in January 2015. That deadline receded first to January 2016, then to January 2017… and then even further.

Were on the cusp now, Johnson declared with a touch of irony at the New Jersey conference. It shouldnt be more than another two years or so!

Each hiccup for GF-6 has been eerily similar, with the sticking point being the design of engine sequence tests that can reliably show that the new oils truly outperform current ones. ILSAC GF-5 required the creation of just one engine sequence test. But for GF-6, Johnson noted, a staggering seven engine sequence tests had to be invented and perfected. So instead of having a new category ready to launch this year, as OEMs wanted, the work is dragging on. And on. The best guess now is that licensing may begin in mid-2019.

Two of the tests being created for GF-6 are completely new. They will measure how well engine oils can handle timing chain wear, and the engine-crippling events called low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI).

The other five will take the place of current tests (the ASTM Sequence III, IV, V, VI and VIII) that are teetering on the edge of extinction, as Johnson repeatedly has warned. These older tests use hardware that is no longer manufactured; some have nearly exhausted the supply of usable parts; and most do not represent state-of-the-art automotive technology. (For more details, see page 6.)

APIs Lubricants Group unofficially has calculated that GF-6 oils might see a commercial launch in May 2019-provided the tests are nailed down and accepted by ASTM this spring, and the final specification is written, balloted and approved by May 2018.

These holdups also slow the arrival of API SP, which will update the API SN category. SP will adopt GF-6s tests and have similar performance limits in areas, but also must address a wider spectrum of viscosity grades since ILSAC only covers certain grades favored by North American and Japanese automakers. API SP will be a global category, available to oil marketers in all regions.

Welcome ACEA 2016

While GF-6 was bogging down, Johnson continued, European engine oil developers were trudging a similar path-but at last their time on the treadmill is over. ACEA is the trade association of the European auto manufacturing industry, and it maintains a group of oil categories called Oil Sequences. Its 15 member companies, which include GMs Opel division, work with additive and oil sellers, as well as testing laboratories, to develop the standards. Because so many European-badged vehicles are sold around the globe, these ACEA specifications are getting more attention everywhere.

Ambitiously, ACEA had aimed to upgrade its Oil Sequences every two years, and it managed to issue six revisions in the 10 years from 2002 to 2012. The iteration that was due in 2014 was another matter. This was a major overhaul requiring the creation of six new engine tests, and the ACEA process is not a whole lot better than APIs, Johnson noted. They face the same issues, with a bunch of new engine tests needed to replace the old ones.

Only two years late, the ACEA 2016 Oil Sequences were published Dec. 1 and are available now for licensing. They include two performance specifications for gasoline engine oils, and two for diesels.

Oils meeting ACEA 2016 must demonstrate a slew of improvements versus ACEA 2012, including fuel economy gains; compatibility with advanced hardware such as turbochargers and gasoline direct injection; higher dispersancy; prevention of black sludge; piston cleanliness; and compatibility with a variety of seal elastomers.

Uptake of the 2016 Oil Sequences is designed to be complete and fairly rapid. Oil marketers may continue to obtain new licenses for products meeting the ACEA 2012 sequences until Dec. 1, 2017, but after that only products meeting the 2016 standard will be eligible for a license. No products claiming to meet the 2012 edition may be marketed after Dec. 1, 2018.

To download the ACEA 2016 Engine Oil Sequences document, or to access the registration page for candidate engine oils, visit the associations web page (

Dexos: Here and Now

The other specification to chip its way out of the upgrade deep-freeze was General Motors proprietary Dexos1:2015, also known as Dexos1 Next Generation. Products licensed to the original 2007 Dexos spec were supposed to have exited the scene by last August, but instead received a brief reprieve. All current-generation Dexos1 licenses are now set to expire on Aug. 31, 2017. We extended that due in part to internal reasons at our own engine plants, Johnson remarked.

At least there should be ample supply of Dexos1:2015 for GM to tap. All four major additive companies have approvals for formulations that satisfy the new spec, he noted, and over 40 companies have product approvals now.

GMs goal with the Dexos specifications, Johnson said, was not to sidestep ILSACs and APIs categories, but to have one global platform for its engine oils, just as it has for vehicles. We did it for global harmonization, he emphasized. Worldwide, we had 38 engine oil specifications in 2006-and not even that many engines.

Among the things that make Dexos1:2015 stand out are:

Inclusion of SAE XW-16. GM doesnt currently use this ultra-light viscosity grade, but we want to have it ready for someday when we do, Johnson explained.

A focus on base oil viscosity. Licensees must report the kinematic viscosity of their products base oil mixture at 100 degrees Celsius, and the base oil mixtures viscosity index.

Tighter scrutiny of evaporative losses. Evaporation leads to oil thickening and lost performance, so Noack volatility is to be measured in three runs of ASTM D5800. No more than 13.0 percent weight loss is allowed in any test run, and we take the average of three consecutive runs at the same laboratory, to give confidence that when the oil is manufactured it will meet the specification, he said.

A fluid profile of every licensed product. This is created using a GM bench test, the 1Q 8547. A field sample then can be compared to this fingerprint, to see if it matches the reference sample, within the test precision. The idea, Johnson added, is to protect consumers and formulators alike, by identifying bad actors who misblend products or stray from their licensed formulation.

Engine tests for Dexos1:2015 are tough, starting with a proprietary test for LSPI, which it calls stochastic (random) pre-ignition. While engine hardware and/or fuel quality also may cause pre-ignition, this chemistry-defining test could help lessen the role played by engine oil. The independent laboratory Intertek has a stand dedicated to the 35-hour procedure, which requires five runs. Three runs must have zero pre-ignition events and the others only two events.

Intertek also has six stands dedicated to GMs turbo­charger deposit test, using a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. The 535-hour test runs on a chassis dynamometer, Johnson said, and has been used internally by GM to see if any oils can help us with this on a factory-fill basis, and help consumers going forward.

Another GM chassis dynamometer test measures fuel economy impact of engine oils, and is available to run at both ISP and Southwest Research Institute. Candidate formulations must show gains of as much as 0.8 percent in this test, depending on the viscosity grade, versus an SAE 5W-30 reference oil.

Dexos1:2015 also requires a successful run through the Sequence VIE test for fuel economy contribution, which GM itself developed as an ASTM method. The VIE test runs for 200 hours (versus 155 hours for its predecessor, the VID), and that will impact hardware life and test stand availability, Johnson cautioned. We may not get as many runs out of each engine as with the VID, so this test is parts-limited as well.

Concerns about oil aeration also led GM to develop its own engine test for that, based on a 5.3L V8 engine. It runs 35 hours and aeration levels are to be reported at set intervals. One test stand has been installed at Southwest Research Institute, but was not running when Johnson gave his presentation in New Jersey.

Theres also the 100-hour GM Oxidation and Deposit test, which takes over from the fast-dying Sequence IIIG to evaluate viscosity increase and weighted piston deposits. The GMOD test uses an aftermarket, LSX V8 engine, and is being put through its paces at a number of independent and private laboratories, including Southwest Research, Intertek, Afton Chemical, ExxonMobil, Lubrizol and Valvoline.

GM had considered the Sequence IVB test as a way to measure weighted piston deposits, but its not ready yet. (Maybe well include that for Dexos third generation, but its not in the specification now, Johnson mused.) Another test it wanted in Dexos1:2015 is the Sequence VH test for sludge. Its not ready either, so GM is retaining the earlier VG test, for now.

GM stopped licensing products to the original Dexos1 specification back in August 2015, and only PCMO meeting Dexos1:2015 can win approval now. The licensing program is administered by the Center for Quality Assurance, part of Savant Group in Midland, Michigan. Information on the program can be found at

More than 400 products were licensed to the earlier spec, so theres a lot of pressure on marketers to submit their data and secure approvals before August 2017. GMs engine oil licensing committee has been meeting monthly to review candidate submissions, and will continue to do so until the pressure slackens, Johnson assured.

Looking ahead, he believes GM will continue to go its own way, keeping to its own schedule of upgrades and picking and choosing from the menu of API, ACEA and proprietary tests to get the factory- and service-fill oils it needs.

Our plan is to update Dexos as new engines come on, he advised. Our plan is to update it every four years, like maybe 2020 for Dexos Third Generation. Weve already started working on it.

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