Application-specific synthetic lubricants soon to see significant market expansion
As equipment designs shift toward high efficiency, they create potential for engines and transmissions to be damaged without knowledge of the issues, said Dan Peterson, senior vice president of marketing and sales, AMSOIL.
“Application-specific synthetic oils are necessitated by GDI engines, which conserve fuel while maintaining horsepower,” he said. “Oil formulation is really impactful in these engines because there’s less room for error. The wrong formulation can create a condition called low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI), which can damage or blow an engine up.”
The growth in the synthetics market is not limited to engine oils — transmission fluids are shifting toward synthetics as transmission designs shift as well. Synthetic technology stems from a specifically engineered base oil with a superior chemical backbone, highly modified to be resistant to sludge formation and breakdown and add a lot of lubricity to the molecules so it glides more easily, Peterson said.
“The big difference is both at high temperatures and in cold-temperature environments,” he said. “When you engineer these synthetics, you take out waxes so the oil can go to much lower temperatures and still be fluid, versus a conventional oil. At high temperatures, synthetics maintain viscosity and resist breakdown, which is a big benefit with newer engine and transmission designs.”
Scott Rajala, senior regional chief engineer at Idemitsu, explained what this means in the competitive oils and fluids market.
“Synthetics allow formulators to go to lower viscosity and maintain performance as expected,” he said. “Using some synthetic-based options and key additives or modifiers can differentiate a product that can bump fuel economy numbers.”
When it comes to minimum requirements and costs, a differentiation in products, creating the “good, better, best” spectrum begins to emerge.
“Many formulations are designed to just meet the minimum specs, which give you an entry-level performance that often works fine without extreme conditions or modification of the vehicle,” he said.
Education becomes key to use of an often necessary and superior synthetic product.
“We’re responsible for educating consumers to use correct oils,” Peterson said. “At AMSOIL, we’ve been working on this for the past three years when we saw the specs and design coming that would require this new formulation.
“We’re going to reach out to all of our retail shops and commercial accounts with Webinars, and we have a monthly publication for dealers and preferred customers. Education determines success here.”
Though the U.S. depends on the American Petroleum Institute (API) for its specifications, Europe treats its counterpart ACEA guidelines as entry level and pays more attention to specific vehicle manufacturer specifications, Peterson said.
“Every major European OEM writes their own specs, and the products need to adhere,” he said. “What’s important to them is very different than in the U.S. They’re far ahead of us in drain intervals. They change oil one half or one third as much with extended drain intervals.
“If you’re going to bring a BMW in, you need someone who knows the specs for the vehicle. You have to know the specs and the oil you put in there, before you go the longer drain intervals. You want to enjoy those benefits.
“Our goal is to get those selling these products to understand two or three key points about why that fluid was designed for that transmission or engine so it’s easier to have the conversation with that consumer,” Peterson said. “Yes, it’s a little pricier, but focus on analogies for things that are common: Not all vanilla ice creams taste the same, right? It might say it’s the same, but high fructose corn syrup and vanilla ‘flavoring’ versus real vanilla? It’s not the same.”
Vehicles are lasting longer on the road, and with synthetics, it’s much easier to keep them on the road longer, he said.
“It’s definitely more feasible for most consumers to pay a little more per oil change than to wear the vehicle out more quickly and pay to buy another car,” he said.
Rajala said synthetic transmission fluids are an easier recommendation because they are changed so seldom, but often the decision comes down to what the consumer knows from the owner’s manual, their brand preferences, and their independent research.
Continuously Variable Transmissions offer an infinite number of speeds and therefore require a highly application-specific fluid. OEMs like to say these are fill-for-life, Peterson said.
“What we’re finding is it should be changed more often than at the 100,000-mile check up,” he said. “Once the fluid degrades and the metal belt slips — because the surface here is critical — this can cause an entire transmission change. Shop owners should encourage customers to service that transmission every 40,000-50,000 miles. Preventative would be 30,000 miles. A little money for preventative maintenance in this case pays off to avoid problems like replacing the whole transmission. Consumers can’t run away from that problem.”
Though shops do not want to carry stock of countless application-specific oils and fluids, as consumers get savvy to getting what they pay for, and OEs do a better job of selling the fluid designed for their transmission, smart shops will come on board, Rajala said.