Challenges and Opportunities Facing Modern Passenger Car Engine Lubricants

Challenges and Opportunities Facing Modern Passenger Car Engine Lubricants

Jul 10, 2019

The demand for passenger cars continues to grow in every continent across the world. Colin Morton, Business Manager at The Lubrizol Corporation, discusses the challenges and opportunities which exist in the move to higher performance, lower viscosity, fuel efficient lubricants.

‘Efficiency, reliability and wellness’ are three fundamental drivers shaping changes to legislation and consumer preferences in the passenger car automotive market. Greater efficiency centres on minimising our environmental impact as well as creating more efficient products, processes and services. Increased reliability revolves around the importance of maximising the useful life of equipment, minimising repair and replacement, as well as ensuring equipment operates as intended throughout its lifetime. Finally, increased wellness is driven by the need to improve the environment in which people live, minimising wastage and resource usage, as well as enabling access to products and services which improve lives.

All of the above are driving the need to develop new services, equipment, lubricants and fuels within our market—today and in the years to come.

By 2022, the vehicle parc for passenger cars is predicted to grow dramatically. This dramatic growth is set to coincide with the introduction of new and more stringent emissions and CO2 legislation, with particular emphasis on Europe, India and China. In India, for example, all new passenger cars from April 2020 will have to conform to the Bharat Stage VI emission standard, with 80% reduced sulphur limits compared to the existing Bharat Stage IV standard introduced back in 2017.

One implication of the drive to a cleaner and more environmentally-friendly world is the requirement for vehicles to be fitted with advanced levels of emissions controls—commonly regarded as integral to achieving ever more stringent emissions targets. As such, an overwhelming majority of the vehicles added to the global passenger car parc by 2022 are forecast to be fitted with advanced emissions control systems.

At the same time, the drive for greater efficiency and lower emissions is leading to a growth in the electrification of passenger cars, whether battery electric vehicles (BEV) without an internal combustion engine (ICE), or hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) including mild, full, plug-in and ranger extender alternatives, each working in conjunction with an ICE.

While the market for vehicles with some form of electrified powertrain system continues to increase, the ICE will continue to play a dominant part in passenger vehicles. It’s forecast that the majority of vehicles produced globally in 2030 are still expected to have an ICE fitted.

While globalisation is often referred to, regional market dynamics mean a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach must never be assumed. Taking a closer look at two examples—China and the European Union—allows us to see some of the unique dynamics, opportunities and challenges which each are facing.


China is forecast to have the largest growth in passenger cars of any country in the world. China is set to introduce the China 6a standard in 2020, followed by China 6b in 2023—acknowledged by many as one of the most stringent emission standards globally.

Societal drivers, which include continued gross domestic product (GDP) growth, urbanisation and infrastructure development, together with air quality improvement and a growing middle class, are having a direct impact on the automotive market.

Real world testing, increased requirements for emissions durability, turbo gasoline direct injection (TGDI) engine usage and protection from low speed pre-ignition (LSPI), as well as the influence of European original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), are all driving the Chinese market towards higher performance and more fuel-efficient lubricants. In practice, today’s lower viscosity Society of Automotive Engineers SAE 5W-30 and 5W-40 engine lubricants will be superseded by more efficient SAE 0W-20 and 0W-16 viscosity grades between now and 2025.

European Union

Today’s European automotive market continues to increase.

The existing Euro 6 emissions standard, which came into force for all vehicles in 2015, is under review by the EU, with the potential for Euro 7 to set much more stringent emission limits for 2030 than seen today.

Societal drivers including the growth in Eastern Europe, the need for air quality improvement, the decline in light-duty diesel, together with the availability of new ownership models and mobility services are all having a direct impact on the automotive market.

The evolution of the powertrain, real world testing, dealership network consolidation as well as the influence of European OEMs and ACEA globally means that today’s European automotive market is becoming more dynamic and complex than ever before. For the engine lubricant, lower viscosity grade SAE 5W-30 will be superseded by more efficient and higher performance SAE 0W-20 and 0W-16 grades.

Global Impact on Lubricants

Such changes are having a significant impact on the design of today’s modern passenger car engine lubricants. New specifications are being developed which require higher performance lubricant solutions. Emission reductions are being enabled by lower Sulphated Ash, Phosphorous and Sulphur (SAPS) additive technology to protect aftertreatment systems.

At the same time, efficiency improvements are enabled through both lower viscosity grade and lower High Temperature High Shear (HTHS) viscosity lubricants. The need for improved durability, such as the mitigation of LSPI in TGDI engines, means higher performance additives and performance polymers are needed to function in more severe operating conditions.

The market continues to face many and varied challenges. OEMs are facing a global market which is undergoing dramatic transformation. Oil marketers face increasing complexity and changing routes to market. Likewise, additive companies are facing a continual and increasing investment on new technology.

Despite such challenges the development of higher performance, lower viscosity, fuel efficient lubricants provide significant opportunities when stakeholders work together in close partnership.
By doing so, modern passenger car engine lubricants can robustly deliver on the three pillars of ‘efficiency, reliability and wellness.’ Increased efficiency is delivered through improved fuel efficiency with lubricant technology. Increased reliability is delivered through optimised durability with approved performance, ultimately enabling lower emission automotive solutions for increased wellness.

The automotive market continues to present many opportunities, and the continuing move to higher performance, lower viscosity, fuel efficient lubricants for modern passenger cars is yet another for the market to fully embrace and benefit from.

Originally published in Lube Magazine.

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