Regulations Specs & Testing

Sustaining Engine Oil Approval Systems


Sustaining Engine Oil Approval Systems
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With electric cars becoming the focus for many vehicle makers, can the lubricants industry continue to sustain the various engine oil approval systems?  

For more than 30 years, the lubricants industry has maintained protocols to develop standards for lubricants for both light- and heavy-duty vehicles that help meet the latest emissions and fuel economy requirements as well as ensure protection for the billions of vehicles already on the road.  Original equipment manufacturers, lubricant marketers, additive companies and test labs have successfully collaborated on these new specifications, but there are significant headwinds as we move into the future.

Although it is clear that engine lubricants will be required well into the future, demand for engine oil is peaking.  In the key markets of North America and Europe, volumes have already plateaued and begun to decline. Lubricants have improved and oil drain intervals continue to be extended, offsetting new demand even as the various car parcs around the world continue to grow.  

The issue at the top of everyone’s mind, though, is how fast will industry transition from internal combustion engines to an electrified global fleet. And how will that transition impact the development of new lubricant specifications for new ICE engines as well as the growing population of older cars still on the road?  

“Whether you consider conservative or more aggressive electrification scenarios, new vehicle sales of EVs are growing significantly,” Bob Salgueiro, Infineum’s liaison manager, said. “But internal combustion engine-powered passenger vehicles, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids, will still be part of the new vehicle mix through at least the next two to three decades.”

As the industry moves forward, ILSAC has already requested GF-7, and EMA has requested PC-12.  Both specifications are expected to be launched between 2026 and 2028.  

So what issues do they face? 

First, we can see that OEMs are moving resources and funds to electric and new energy vehicle power trains. ICE development is slowing, and some OEMs are even ending it. OEMs are also concerned about the time it takes to bring new lubricants into the marketplace, leading to competing systems (e.g. the International Fluids Consortium) and more OEM-specific specifications (e.g. General Motors’ dexos1 specification). Other stakeholders are concerned about getting an acceptable return on their lubricant business as well as the money and resources required to develop and deploy these new lubricants. 

The real question is how industry will manage this transition. There are still more than a billion vehicles on the road worldwide, and we see new needs all the time. Despite the growth of EVs, new ICE engines continue to be added to the fleet. 

“ICE hardware continues to evolve over time to meet tightening fuel economy and emission requirements,” Salgueiro said. “Having lubricants with proven capabilities to ensure these engines are able to deliver consistent performance and reliability throughout their service life will still be essential for the global industry.”  

An ongoing issue is the development of new and replacement engine tests. Recently ASTM tests have been developed for API specifications and widely adopted by other standard-setting organizations like ACEA, JASO and IFC as well as by OEMs. This has caused existing tests to be used up faster than anticipated and has raised concerns that both new and replacement tests cannot be developed fast enough to meet industry needs.

“Having lubricants with proven capabilities to ensure these engines are able to deliver consistent performance and reliability throughout their service life will still be essential for the global industry.”


Jeff Harmening, senior manager for engine oil licensing systems for API, was asked about the use of ASTM tests funded and developed by API for its specifications and utilized by others. “This is certainly a front-of-mind topic for all industry stakeholders involved in PC-12 and will be no different when GF-7 gets underway,” he said. “Guaranteeing the lifetime of the categories is certainly going to require working closely with the other standards development organizations (SDOs) and OEMs for test usage estimates. A more concerted effort to work with the SDOs—perhaps even at the funding level—will be necessary as we near completion of matrix design for each of the proposed new tests.”

Brent Calcut, senior OEM relationship manager for Afton Chemical Co., added that “other organizations are adopting more ASTM tests developed within the API system. Aligning performance tests and requirements across global PCMO specifications is good for the industry. Better coordination among these organizations is vital to ensure we can adequately plan for the future.” 

Shawn Whitacre, head of the heavy-duty engine oil class panel and senior staff engineer for Chevron Lubricants, concurred: “There is growing awareness of the interconnectivity of specification requirements and the need to be more proactive in aligning globally. In fact, there are working groups that have been established to more formally drive dialogue amongst standard-setting organizations around the globe, and I participate on behalf of the HDEOCP.” 

Developing new and replacement engine tests is far from an easy task. “New API and ILSAC specification developments are underway at the OEMs’ request,” Calcut said. “It’s encouraging to see continued OEM support for new categories, including PC-12, API SP PLUS, an expanded ILSAC GF-6B and ILSAC GF-7. New test development remains a challenge, and some traditional OEM test developers are not interested, creating an opportunity for others to get more involved, yet others remain interested. API is also currently evaluating the impact of new lower-viscosity oils on existing light-duty and heavy-duty engine tests. We feel this is a necessary and important step in the API process and we trust that process will identify and resolve any concerns.”

Whitacre added: “There is no doubt that our industry is stretched as we respond to the various dynamics affecting both traditional and emerging powertrains. The message has been clear in both the light- and heavy-duty space that the viability of gasoline and diesel engines rests in continuing to make them lower-emitting and more efficient. PC-12 is squarely in line with the objective to enable the next generation of diesel engines. Being able to define critical performance dimensions that are inherent in legacy performance specs and are required for backward compatibility is also absolutely a key concern. Identifying and developing replacement tests is clearly in focus as we work on this new category. We’ve made important progress in recent months, but there is still a lot to work out.”

So with PC-12 and GF-7 specifications planned for the next four to six years, insiders expect industry will deliver as it has in the past. But there are issues to be solved first. 

“The message has been clear in both the light- and heavy-duty space that the viability of gasoline and diesel engines rests in continuing to make them lower-emitting and more efficient. PC-12 is squarely in line with the objective to enable the next generation of diesel engines.”


Funding is a key problem, as these categories are likely to be far more costly than in the past given the scope of EMA’s and ILSAC’s request. New viscosity grades and the need for many replacement tests—which also need the ability to test oils over a wide viscosity range—are key objectives. 

Some solutions have been offered, though. “In many respects, the sharing of testing platforms amongst various global standards drives some efficiency in the development of the standards themselves and also in the testing and qualification that is done to meet them,” Whitacre said. “The proper mechanism to cost-share the development costs across the various stakeholder industries is an area that continues to evolve, however, and is something we continue to examine as part of this new heavy-duty category development.” 

Salgueiro agreed. “Our industry has a long history of prior engine tests developments from which to draw and learn,” he said. “In a collaborative effort through trade organizations, best practices are being collected and summarized in a guide to ensure greater efficiency and success for new test developments. As legacy engine tests age out of parts, the industry will need to carefully evaluate replacement options beyond fired engine tests without compromising protection.” 

Salgueiro offered some other solutions, too. “Another approach is to eliminate tests or parameters which are determined to be redundant in new categories. This will save engine test parts for use in programs for qualifying older categories. Another idea might be for API or ASTM to seek contributions from other organizations to assist in developing ASTM D standards tests, which use these engine tests in their specifications.” 

A major question is whether all organizations will work together. Or will all the others continue to rely on API and ASTM to fully fund the next generation of lubricants? 

There have been times when OEMs in Europe and North America have launched their own oils when the industry hasn’t been moving fast enough. But they too rely on others developing tests. 

“Long term, the industry cannot sustain the various engine oil approval systems as long as it has to rely on OEMs and engine manufacturers for engine test development and hardware procurement,” Angela Willis of Advanced Consulting said. “Solving this will be imperative in order to keep existing categories going, let alone any type of new standards support. Different standard-setting organizations will most likely need to work with each other by sharing resources, whether that is for engine test development and maintenance or other matters like BOI/VGRA development.  In addition, these industry bodies and OEMs using their own specifications need to have open and proactive communication, so proper planning can be done to ensure there is enough hardware as well as enough labs to run these tests and ensure they will be available for all interested parties.”

What might be in store beyond PC-12 and GF-7? 

“There is no doubt that the crystal ball gets fuzzy after 2030,” Harmening said. “There are so many unanswered questions relating to EV infrastructure and uptake, energy supply and ICE-ban timelines, just to name a few. Of course, this makes it difficult to predict today where we’ll be in five years, let alone the next decade. OEMs will largely dictate the future need, and it appears hybrids may end up playing a larger role than expected during this transition.” 

What does this mean for future categories? 

“I believe the prospects for future categories remains high,” Harmening continued. “Quite frankly, lubricants play such an important role in any industry seeking to reduce its carbon footprint that there will necessarily be additional opportunities for standardization, which not only includes the traditional OEMs but also new market entrants as EV and other platforms progress. API intends to be there to serve industry and meet these future needs.”  

Willis added that decreased participation of OEMs as test sponsors will only get worse as OEMs move toward electrification. “My thought is it will likely evolve into leveraging technical resources outside of the OEMs, whether that is within the independent and dependent labs or technical consultants,” she said. “One indication of this evolution is what is happening on the heavy-duty side for PC-12. With the T-11 test going away, a technical task force was assembled, with the independent and dependent labs leading the way. The industry now has at least two viable options, each developed by the labs, with the possibility of a third option. I see this concept becoming the norm in the future.” 

Willis, as chair of PCEOCP, set up a model to track use of engines across the API categories for both light- and heavy-duty lubricants based on input received from the test labs and knowledge about the past. Her model, like any model, relies on good input to predict the future. Because of this, advanced knowledge of ACEA or JASO making use of ASTM tests is critical. Additionally, it is vital to forecast whether OEMs will decide not to utilize existing BOI/VGRA rules for a test like the Sequence VH. 

“We need to understand needs at the very early stages of development, so hardware can be procured and stakeholders can understand how long their investments will last,” Willis said. “It was quite frustrating to realize after the fact that tests that were expected to last until at least 2030 could be depleted much sooner. Everyone who uses these tests has obligation to provide good input for the industry to ensure that the tools necessary for lubricant development are ready when needed.”  

Steve Haffner is president of SGH Consulting LLC. He has over 40 years of experience in the chemical industry, primarily with Exxon Chemicals Paramins and Infineum USA. Contact him at or 908-672-8012.