Lubegard expands product offerings to automotive markets across U.S.
Seattle—International Lubricants Inc. (ILI) has seen major growth and expansion of its products since its founding in Seattle by Frank Erickson in 1984, said Noriko Anderson, sales director at ILI. “Frank was passionate about the company and developing quality Lubegard-branded products. Fortunately, that passion has continued with the acquisition of ILI by Stellar Automotive Group in 2012.”
Stellar, based in Seville, Ohio, is a transmission parts distributor in business since 1993, said Justin Archer, a third-generation automotive entrepreneur who purchased Stellar in 2007. “Both Stellar and ILI sell products to very similar, and in many cases, the same customers. Therefore, the synergies between both companies were extremely complimentary.”
Anderson, who has been with ILI for 21 years and remains at the Seattle R&D and sales office site, has seen significant changes in the chemical, fluids, and product markets in recent years. “We now have transmission filter kits sold under the Lubegard brand based on Stellar’s offerings of transmission filter kits and gasket. In addition, there is a full line of Lubegard Complete fluids that includes multi-vehicle CVT fluid for many applications, including belt and chain type CVTs; full synthetic ATF that utilizes Lubegard’s proprietary additive technology that meets or exceeds OE specifications; dual clutch transmission fluid, a growing global market with more vehicles equipped with DCTs; and synthetic power steering fluids that are becoming more complicated like transmission fluids.”
Anderson said Lubegard’s fuel system cleaner (Fuel System Booster) was formulated specifically for carbon build up found in many direct fuel injection systems. “It’s also formulated with ILI’s patented technology, Synergol, to provide more lubricity to today’s ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and fuel stabilizer to prevent ethanol from separating from gasoline.”
The most popular products sold to the automotive trade, Anderson said, include Kooler Kleen Trans Flush, a transmission cooler line flush for shops that do not have dedicated flush machines; Instant Shudder Fixx that eliminates converter shudder instantly; ATF additives Lubegard is known for; Limited Slip Supplement, a friction modifier that has become a fast seller in the retail market; and the Kool-It Evaporator and Heater Foam Cleaner, “our fastest growing product.”
While ILI manufactures a variety of chemicals and fluids for a variety of industries (cosmetics, industrial, aerospace, pool and spa, marine, etc.), Anderson said the majority of the products developed and manufactured are for the automotive industry that includes fleet/heavy-duty, motorcycle, and RVs.
Products are marketed throughout North America and globally to more than 50 countries, including Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
While the Lubegard R&D continues to occur with chemists at the original South Seattle facility, Archer said the former blending line in Seattle was recently moved and re-assembled at the 55,000-square-foot Seville facility. “This is the second blending line so now all product filling is done exclusively in Ohio. Originally, our plan was to increase space in Seattle, but we were landlocked. Our facility in Seville had the ability to expand, so we added 30,000 square feet in 2013 to accommodate Lubegard capacity needs.”
Products are shipped mainly from the Ohio headquarters with some shipping from a Stellar distribution center in Garden Grove, Calif.
Blaine Rhodes, a former chemist at ILI, returns to the Seattle R&D center in August to help develop a new synthetic CVT conditioner and other products. Along with Chemist Bob Kostric, the use of a re-vitalized Falex MultiSpecimen Test Machine will evaluate the friction, wear, and abrasion characteristics of materials, coatings, and lubricants for research, product qualification, and custom testing for development of new Lubegard products.
LXE (Liquid Wax Ester) Technology has been part of Lubegard’s product development since 1984, Anderson said, adding that many users of ILI’s products are not aware that “Lubegard molecules are environmentally and worker-friendly and made from renewable sources.”
“I will never forget meeting with Frank Erickson when he told me the ‘Whale Story,’” Archer said. “In a nutshell, the 1972 Endangered Species Act outlawed the killing of whales whose sperm oil had been used in all transmission fluid until that point. Transmissions failures skyrocketed and Frank contacted Dr. Phillip Landis, the former head of Mobil 1 Research, and created the best derivative of whale oil you could find. It was quickly patented by ILI and was called Liquid Wax Ester. That’s what separates Lubegard from others. There is real science in our products, not 99 percent base oil and a drop of additive.”
Anderson said, “We have multiple technical service bulletins on our products by OEs and technical service institutes unlike other chemical/additive companies. ILI/Lubegard is an R&D/technology-driven chemical company that has developed patented molecules and our own formulation, and we’ve earned numerous national awards as a result, as well as receiving dozens of Top 10 Tool awards from Transmission Digest and Undercar Digest magazines.”
Looking ahead, Anderson said she sees a growth in North American retail sales of Lubegard products. Both she and Archer foresee expanded exports of ILI products, as “Lubegard is definitely a recognized global brand.” Archer said power steering fluids will continue to show growth as systems become more complex, with Anderson noting that O’Reilly stores nationwide added synthetic power steering fluids to SKUs in each outlet.
“The development of once popular engine additives is a product the company may develop, as long as claims can be fully substantiated and proper marketing of that product line is accomplished,” Archer said.