Inroads with Asian OEMs and R&D lead Idemitsu to brand aftermarket engine oil
Torrance, Calif.—Engine hardware is being developed in conjunction with lower viscosity fluids that are applicable in all types of climates, from extreme cold to tropical, to offer increased fuel economy, an important benefit in meeting escalating CAFE standards, said Doug McGregor, product manager for Idemitsu Lubricants America Corp.
“Today’s engines are manufactured with much tighter clearances between parts and smoother surfaces, built to accommodate much lower viscosity fluids,” he said. “They work hand in hand and require joint development — engine designers need to work with appropriate fluids and their additives to maximize fuel economy.”
Idemitsu, a Japanese company more than 100 years old and based in Tokyo, has subsidiaries around the world. The U.S. subsidiary is based in Jeffersonville, Ind., and was launched during the 1980s in support of Japanese car manufacturers that began production stateside. Four years ago, the company entered the aftermarket under the Idemitsu brand.
“The market is highly saturated and competitive, but we identified an opportunity and need for a higher grade engine oil and application-specific transmission fluids,” said Erick Esparza, division manager for Idemitsu Lubricants America Corp. “The market, at the technician level, understands the need for lubricant differentiation.”
In the next two years, McGregor predicted the industry will see significant advances in preventing engine wear and piston deposits that will be related to the control of the oil and sludge formation.
The trend in the industry from factory fill and a service fill perspective is to move toward lower viscosity fluids because it’s what the vehicle manufacturers are recommending.
“5W-30 viscosity oil still dominates the service fill market and bulk in volume of sales,” McGregor said, “though there’s been a steep, accelerating trend toward 5W-20 in the past two years as it’s becoming the dominant viscosity grade for service fill. Service fill, however, typically lags behind factory fill, which are now mostly 5W-20, but there’s also a fair amount of 0W-20 being installed now, too.”
He explained that the benefits of a lower viscosity fluid are its flow — the distance it needs to travel — so that any type of energy within the engine that is required to move the lubricant is going to be reduced. From the oil pump to any sliding or rolling surfaces that have to displace or come into contact with the lubricant, there going to be less viscous resistance to the flow or movement of mechanical parts.
“Viscosity is a large contributor to fuel economy,” McGregor said. “Multi-grade engine oils have formulations that contain a high-molecular weight polymer, which is used to maintain or thicken the oil so it doesn’t lose its viscosity at higher temperatures. We find that, exclusively in gas engines for light-duty applications, there’s better fuel economy with a higher-molecular weight polymer. We see a temporary reduction in viscosity in certain parts of an engine that are operating at high speeds, such as in the piston and cylinder area, increasing fuel economy.”
With its 0W-20, Idemitsu has advantages over competition because of its close relationships with many Asian vehicle manufacturers, he said. “We’ve enjoyed development projects with many OEMs, and, combined with those inroads and a technology center in Japan, we focus on formulating advanced technology lubricants using individual additive components. Most of our competition depends on using pre-formulated mixtures of additives from suppliers. There are very few lubricant manufacturers such as Idemitsu that have the expertise in formulating the entire lubricant themselves.”
“Esparza added, “We’ve limited our distribution to distributors that understand us as a more sophisticated product, rather than a commodity.”
”It’s not just the viscosity of the lubricant, it’s Idemitsu’s “holistic approach” to the formulation that plays an important role, McGregor said. “It’s understanding how to protect the engine components when they are under high loads, high temperatures and extreme conditions. There are certain additives and balanced formulations that need to be applied to minimize friction and wear under those conditions. And, again, the result is going to be better fuel economy. The Idemitsu-branded engine oil takes into account everything we’ve learned.”
“With the Idemitsu aftermarket brand, they have applied the knowledge and experience from working with most Asian OEMs in the development of advanced engine oil technologies to a OW-20 formulation that delivers uncompromised fuel economy and engine protection to both domestic and foreign makes and models.”
Transmission complexity requires application-specific fluids
Transmission fluids are becoming more specialized than engine oils, Esparza said, and are playing a larger functional role.
“From the aftermarket marketing strategy, we’re discovering that, particularly with Asian transmissions, fluid is playing a more functional role. Often times, the fluid is considered just a lubricant, ensuring gears don’t grind together, cause chipping and so on. But the reality is that transmissions are very complex and aren’t standardized from one manufacturer to the next, as they independently design engineering to create efficiencies on their own.”
There are certain critical characteristics of a fluid, he said, such as its frictional properties, that assist the transmission in shifting gears and reduce noise, vibration and harshness (HVH) such as shudder. A big trend is an added effort to improve fuel economy through transmissions as they are a big part in a vehicle’s operation. The CVT transmission is one example.
“It’s a ‘brainy’ technology that uses only one gear in a pulley-like system, managing the torque of the transmission through different RPMs and speeds,” Esparza said. “It’s completely different from an automatic transmission that’s using a more traditional gear shift.”
As transmissions develop and change, a challenge is they all use different materials. CVT, for instance, will use a belt system in some models and a chain system in others, each requiring an entirely different lubricant, he said. “An incorrect fluid for a belt system will prematurely wear and cause failure.”
Similar to its 0W-20 engine oil and its development through Idemitsu’s relationships with Asian vehicle manufacturer/partners, the company works to co-engineer the fluid to meet the requirements of each specific application, McGregor said, adding that Idemitsu was first to market with a fluid for CVT use.
“We’re opposed to multi-vehicle formulations and there are compromises to be aware of when using them, as opposed to the application-specific products we design.”
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