Automotive Lubricants



I love a good horse race. The Kentucky Derby is the best two or three minutes in the sport, and there is nothing like the chill that goes down my spine as the track announcer says with some excitement, Theyre rounding the turn and heading into the home stretch! I also know that there are a lot of folks at the International Lubricant Standardization and Advisory Committee, the American Chemistry Council, ASTM International and the American Petroleum Institute who are feeling that chill right now.

What could make all these diverse characters (automakers, additive companies and oil marketers) get so excited? Well, ILSAC GF-6 is on the final stretch run to introduction in 2020!

Certainly this hasnt been a two- to three-minute dash. Rather, it has been a marathon slog through the whole process. GF-6 started in 2012 with targeted introduction in 2016. It didnt take long before it became apparent that 2016 was wildly optimistic. The schedule was pushed back to 2017, but that too slipped. After a while, the timing for introduction to market became rather nebulous until 2020 emerged from the fog.

What took so long? There were two contributing factors: a concurrent upgrade to API CK-4 on the heavy-duty side (later the FA-4 fuel economy specification was added) and the large number of new and revised tests for GF-6. After discussions with all concerned parties, CK-4 was given the pole position since it included only two new tests and some changes in limits on the rest. In addition, the New Category Development Team for diesel oils had worked out a category development flow chart that kept everyone aimed in the right direction.

The GF-6 development group came up with a flow chart similar to NCDT for their work. They also added a new group, the Auto/Oil Advisory Panel, to shepherd category development. The flow chart on Page 8 lays out the steps that ILSAC, API and ACC are required to take to do the job. ASTM International continues to be an integral part of the process, since it is charged with developing tests to the point where they are reliable-that is, repeatable and reproducible. When that is done, the original equipment manufacturers, ACC and API can set limits for the various test procedures to reflect the desired performance improvements.

One thing that makes a lot of this both possible and confusing is that all of these organizations have overlapping membership. Various entities lobby for their positions in all of the organizations. That can be either a blessing or a curse.

In general terms, the process has three basic steps. First, someone has to ask for a new category and explain why they need it. Most commonly it is the OEMs, since their engines are in need of lubrication. Some of the drivers for a new category are regulatory or engine requirements. Consumer needs and lubricants technology also can enter into the equation.

Once that has been established, AOAP takes over and goes through a series of steps to decide what tests need to be developed or what test limits need to be modified. New tests are developed by the OEMs, which also propose changes in limits for existing tests. Based on preliminary data, a tentative specification is produced. The industry OEMs propose new limits for the tests, and ACC and the Product Approval Protocol Task Group, the additive companies working group within ACC, make their recommendations. AOAP reviews and finalizes the test limits.

Finally, the API Lubricants Standards Group adopts the new category and moves to update the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System. The process has built-in timing steps that also stretch out the end date.

As I mentioned earlier, the GF-6 process was tough for a number of reasons. First, both CK-4/FA-4 and GF-6/API SP were scheduled for a similar starting date of 2017. The reason was simple: New government emissions regulations were going into effect that both categories were trying to meet. As it turned out, there was flexibility in that target, and ILSAC was able to cover itself with new engine technology. However, they really needed the new oils as soon as possible.

Since API CK-4/FA-4 was less difficult to complete, that work went first and was finished with introduction in late 2016. As you all know, these oils are quickly taking over the marketplace (though FA-4 uptake has been much slower than CK-4). There are over 1,100 API licenses already in place globally for CK-4.

ILSAC GF-6/API SP is a different story. There were two completely new tests and major revisions to five others that resulted in a great deal of background work. The new tests were for new phenomenon that had been uncovered with the development of gasoline-fueled turbo­charged direct-injection engines.

Changes in the Sequence IVB industry wear test also contributed to the delay. This is an existing test but with a new engine from a different OEM-that makes it almost a new test. The Sequence IVB has been a struggle for the past few years, since it doesnt neatly follow the Sequence IVA test that it replaces, and it has taken that much time to get the precision of the new test in line with the old. Remember, all API engine oil categories must be backward compatible to ensure that older engines can be successfully lubricated with the newest oils.

Well, getting back to my opening lines, we are now at the point where a proposed specification has been presented by ILSAC and reviewed by ACC. There are some differences in each groups recommended limits, but it does look like they will be able to come to consensus soon. This is a major milepost in the process. Weve passed the three-quarter pole and are rounding the last curve!

Once the limits are set by AOAP, the clock starts on what is called the mandatory waiting period. Thats a one-year period during which additive companies and oil marketers work to develop products to meet the new category. At the end of the waiting period, API allows licensing to begin for both API Service Category SP and SP-Resource Conserving as well as ILSAC GF-6.

The API system has been in place for more than 40 years. It has served the industry pretty well, especially in the early years when engine oil improvements were coming at a more leisurely pace. However, starting in the early 1990s, the pace picked up. New engine designs were being introduced at a much faster rate, and the oil category process was falling behind. There was also a need to include fuel economy performance within the category designation rather than as a standalone feature. The answer to that was the GF series of oil categories.

The breaking point occurred in 2017 when the automakers needed an oil that would resolve a problem with low-speed pre-ignition issues. The engines involved were primarily gasoline fueled with turbocharging and direct fuel injection. They had been introduced about 10 years earlier and were very popular. There are probably in excess of 25 million currently in service. So rather than waiting for GF-6s debut, the industry took a tangent to create an interim category to address the problem.

A test known as the Sequence IX had been developed and got a nod from the industry. Limits had been proposed and accepted by all interested parties. ILSAC proposed that API SN-Plus include Sequence IX in addition to the other API SN and SN-RC (aka ILSAC GF-5) tests as a stop-gap measure to minimize what they thought was a significant field concern. From the proposal to the first license date in May of 2018, it took less than one year, which demonstrates that the process can work expeditiously.

At this point, it seems likely that future engine oil category developments will take a different and hopefully more streamlined path. Several organizations have come out in favor of a major overhaul or complete replacement of the API system. There is a task force, the Lubricants Standards Development Review Group, that has been meeting regularly for more than a year and hopes to have a proposal ready by mid-year.

GF-6 is on the inside and thundering toward the finish line while the crowd (API et al.) is cheering loudly. The finish line is in sight!

Industry consultant Steve Swedberg has over 40 years experience in lubricants, most notably with Pennzoil and Chevron Oronite. He is a longtime member of the American Chemical Society, ASTM International and SAE International, where he was chairman of Technical Committee 1 on automotive engine oils. He can be reached at