By Tom Curtis
President, Lubrizol Additives

When I wrote about the keys to marketing API SN Plus lubricants recently, I made mention of how the API SN Plus process indicates a new way our industry can deliver high-performance lubricants to the market, when and where they’re needed, free of the massive undertaking involved in licensing a completely new specification. And it’s worth some further discussion.

As it stands right now, the development of ILSAC GF-6 remains mired in testing challenges. That’s not to say some progress isn’t being made—the Sequence IVB test for valvetrain wear was recently accepted into the specification, despite some disagreement among industry stakeholders about the test’s repeatability and precision.

But there’s been some other recent news that raises important questions about the ongoing feasibility of static, comprehensive specification overhauls like ILSAC GF-6. Toyota has begun recommending the SAE 0W-16 viscosity grade—one that contributes to higher fuel efficiency—for its current model year Camry, with owners’ manuals instructing operators to seek out SAE 0W-16 where available. This may not be an issue for new vehicles being served under warranty by Toyota dealerships, but elsewhere, availability will likely be challenging.

Why is this important? Toyota isn’t waiting for ILSAC GF-6, because higher fuel economy is possible today. Like the OEM request for API SN Plus to fight against low speed pre-ignition (LSPI), this development shows us that OEMs are willing to take matters into their own hands when it comes to seizing higher available performance.

Make no mistake, the development of ILSAC GF-6 has been uniquely challenging by requiring the development of seven brand-new engine tests. But therein lies the issue—forgoing the availability of new tests until all are ready is limiting what we’re already capable of doing. We could be certifying lubricants today that exceed current levels of performance in a number of important areas. LSPI is one of those performance areas, and the critical need of automakers to protect their equipment effectively forced our industry’s hand.

Fuel economy is another, as evidenced by Toyota’s decision. Consider the critical importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the role the broader transportation sector has to play in doing so. Globally, over 3 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution, and transportation accounts for 14 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Bringing lubricants to market that enable evolving engine technology to better benefit our society—by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for instance—is important, and our current industry model limits our ability to do it.
API SN Plus is a success story. We untied LSPI from the development of ILSAC GF-6 because it was necessary, and we delivered a solution within an eight-month timeframe. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with additional tests and other critical performance areas. Evergreen testing and rolling specification development can help us further innovate and proactively meet the needs of OEMs.

Our view: Tying engine test development to broad specification development limits our ability to meet OEM needs, limits the value we can provide, and limits the good that new engine and lubricant technology can deliver to the world at large.

We need to begin having serious conversations about untying test development from specifications. The relevance of our industry depends on it.