Motor oils are growing more complex. Jobbers not only have to keep ahead of the changes that have happened with motor oils now; they now have to get up to speed on the fast-approaching ILSAC GF-6 standard for motor oils set to be released next year.
Ian Hutchison is marketing manager, aftermarket, with Wakefield Canada Inc., blenders of the popular Castrol brand of motor oils. Hutchison says that in years past, a typical installer could profitably service his customers with just two grades of conventional motor oils. “This made inventory and cash-flow management relatively easy for the installer to manage, and made the selling process relatively straightforward for the counterperson.”
In the last few years, with increasingly stringent CAFE standards for improved fuel efficiencies and emissions for new vehicles being sold in North America, engine technologies have had to change. Tolerances and displacements are tighter, and engines have to work hotter and harder. This has put special strains on blenders to come up with motor oils that can operate in such engines.
“This has led to an industry-wide trend toward extensive grade and specification proliferation,” Hutchison explains. “This means that instead of two grades, a typical installer would have to stock, manage, and inventory a number of grades and specifications to meet the expanding variety of new cars.”
Vehicle makers now mandate specific blends and grades of motor oils that are to be used with specific vehicles. Examples of this are GM dexo1, VW 50501, and BMW LL03. “This creates a challenge for counter staff, who find themselves in the position of helping technicians choose the right oil for a particular vehicle, and advise them on the correct package size and overall management for their inventory,” says Hutchison.
Dennis Favaro, marketing manager with Valvoline Canada, a division of Ashland Canada Corp., says jobbers are entering a world of increasing fragmentation and expansion of different applications within motor oils. “You can now have up to ten different 5W30 motor oils, with each one having a different specification and application. Some will be for diesel, others for gasoline engines, and some for specific makes of vehicles, such as ones for Audi and others for Volkswagen.”
Peter Szarafinski, head of media relations international with Liqui Moly, says jobbers need to start thinking of motor oils today as similar to other vehicle components that are specific to certain makes and models. “For instance, a brake disc fits only to a certain car. Today, the diversity of motor oil standards, especially for European and Asian models, is quite great. The days of serving all cars with just one or two types of motor oils are definitely gone.
“The complex motor oil landscape results not from motor oil producers, but from the car manufacturers,” Szarafinski continues. “Often the motor oil properties are defined at a very early stage, when a new engine is designed. As each car manufacturer follows different strategies in their engine design, they need different motor oils.”
Finding the right oil match
Because engines are now designed to use specific blends of motor oils, counter staff need to be able to correctly match motor oils to specific vehicle types and makes. There is no leeway now. The consequences of mismatching motor oils to vehicles can be catastrophic for today’s engines that operate on tight tolerances.
Dave Schletewitz, Havoline brand manager with Chevron Lubricants, says that mismatching can lead to such things as equipment failure or shorter lifespans for some critical engine components. For the service shop, it can mean a tarnished reputation and potential liability for possible negative impacts to engine components, or even engine failure in some cases.
“It is important for counter staff to understand the consequences of misapplication,” notes Scott Cline, national sales manager, lubricants, with Bluewave Energy, producers of the Shell brand of motor oils. “Once upon a time, oil was pretty much oil. That’s not the case anymore. Vehicles and equipment are designed to work with specific products, and using the wrong fluid could produce catastrophic and expensive results. When counter staff understand the importance of making the right recommendation and use the tools available to them, the biggest benefit they will experience is the trust of their customers. If customers feel that they are receiving accurate and relevant information about which lubricants to use and why, they will trust this counterperson with more of their business.”
“A counterperson would not process a customer request for a fuel pump or a set of brake pads without asking for basic information such as make, model, year, etc. Likewise, with lubricants the same principles apply,” adds Russell Arnot, technical manager, Klondike Lubricants Corporation. “It is in the counterperson’s and customer’s best interest to reference an OEM manual or database for the applicable type, grade, and any specifics that would apply, like any other part.”
To help jobbers make the right choice in motor oils, blenders offer a wide range of online tools that allow counter staff to input make, model, and engine type to quickly find the correct motor oil for the vehicle. Blenders also offer training and sales support that can be called upon to keep jobber counter staff cognizant of the changes happening with motor oils.
“Training and support are important components of Bluewave’s customer value proposition,” adds Cline. “We provide the tools necessary to recommend the right oils, point of sale support, [and] technical support. Every summer, we cross Canada providing our customers’ front-line staff with sales, product, trend, and application training. If you base your motor oil purchase on price alone, you are doing your staff and customers a disservice.”
Favaro says jobbers will soon be carrying a larger inventory of motor oil products, but at the same time, they will need to ask installers more specific questions about the vehicles in the bays. “Jobbers will need to become more attuned to the application of those products and recommending the right product. So it comes down to saying something along the lines of, ‘That alternator will not fit every car, only a 2011 Jetta with a diesel engine.’ The same is going to have to happen for motor oils. There will be oils that are very specific to certain engines. Just as someone who calls in for an alternator and the jobber asks what is the make, model, year, and engine type, the same has to happen for motor oils. You will be asking for the make, model, year, and engine so as to recommend the right oil.”
One major change jobbers will have to be aware of is the upcoming ILSAC GF-6 specifications for motor oils. This is going to be especially critical, as within the GF-6 specification there will actually be two specifications, driven by unique engine requirements set out by some vehicle manufacturers. According to Lubrizol’s website (http://www.gf-6.com/gf-6-specification-details), which follows and reports on the work being done on the new specification: “ILSAC GF-6 actually encompasses two potential specifications: GF-6A and GF-6B. The principal difference between the two categories of oils concerns viscosity grade and high temperature, high shear (HTHS) performance. GF-6B oils would provide the same performance as GF-6A, but with the added aim of lower HTHS to deliver potential further fuel economy benefits. This offers the possibility of potential GF-6B oils operating at viscosity ranges of less than 0W-20 once these new viscosity grades are defined and accepted by SAE.”
Adds Antonio Ramos, marketing manager with Automobile Solutions Americas Inc., makers of the Veedol brand of motor oils, “Additionally, the GF-6 requirement will also have improved engine corrosion protection, oxidation control and will improve engine cleanliness. There will be a transition period, as with all new products, where you might find the GF-5 and GF-6 spec available in the market, so that will be important in the short term. I have known a lot of counterpeople who pick up on which vehicles and engines will need the new GF-6 and will quickly be able to recommend that their customer needs the new spec and why.
“As far as the new SAE 16 spec goes, my understanding is that it will only be required on certain engines. It is engineered to improve fuel economy by reducing hydrodynamic friction between moving parts. This would mean that the oil is very thin, and from what I have read also has to operate at a much lower high-temperature range than previous oils.”
Says Liqui Moly’s Szarafinski, “It is a widespread trend among car manufacturers to push thinner motor oils. The thinner the motor oil, the less the inner friction of the motor oil. This is a little piece of the puzzle to reduce fuel consumption and meet future emissions standards. But such motor oils [OW-20] only work for engines that are specifically designed for it. This is important to know for jobbers. Such oils used in conventional engines do not provide lubrication, and thus will kill the engine in a very short time. So double-check if this is really the right oil for that car when selling one of those super-low-viscosity oils.”
“While the exact detail of the impacts of GF-6 and the impending lower viscosity oils has yet to be determined, it is safe to assume that technicians and jobber counter staff will have to deal with even more SKUs to accommodate these new requirements,” says Wakefield’s Hutchison. “This ultimately means that counter staff will be helping installers create a product suite to meet the needs
of the consumer. That will likely mean that successful counter staff will – to
some degree – act as ‘inventory consultants,’ helping repair shops juggle their investments in inventory.” nJN
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