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Rising to the Performance Gap Challenge: Hybrid Vehicles in Latin America

Rising to the Performance Gap Challenge: Hybrid Vehicles in Latin America

Jun 27, 2023
Posted by Fabio Araujo, Business Manager, Latin America, Engine Lubricants

Drivers in Latin America are moving toward hybrid-engine options in passenger cars (PCs) in greater numbers, but the demand for higher-quality lubricants to keep those engines running optimally hasn’t kept pace. It’s a frustrating challenge that must be overcome to meet the needs of this rapidly expanding market.

All it takes is a look at vehicle production forecasts for the region and the recent results of field testing of hybrid vehicle engine oils to see that the higher quality lubricants need to be more widely adopted in LATAM. 

Hybrid Growth Forecast for Latin America

Brazil and Mexico continue to hold their places as important players in the global vehicle market, both in terms of vehicle production (Mexico is 7th, Brazil is 8th globally) and vehicles in operation (Brazil ranks 6th, Mexico 8th globally), according to data from ANFAVEA in Brazil, ANPACT in Mexico and the Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers. Both countries also rank high globally when it comes to new vehicle registrations. 

Currently, more than 90 percent of the vehicles produced in the region are traditional ICE vehicles. That’s changing rapidly. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are on track to produce more hybrid vehicles than any other car type in the next 10 years. Mexico has put more energy toward production of battery-electric vehicles (BEV) than hybrid, but the signs are clear that new vehicle production is moving steadily away from ICE vehicles.

Worldwide, hybrid vehicle production is expected to overtake ICE-only production before the end of the decade, and it’s fair to say that Latin America is seeing one of the most rapid transitions to hybrid vehicle production of any region in the world.

At the same time, Latin America has been slow to adopt higher quality lubricants that bring more fuel efficiency and longer engine life to hybrid vehicles.

Technical Challenges Inhibiting LATAM Hybrid growth

As hybrid use grows in the region, consumers will face the challenge of outdated engine oil lubricant standards. Right now, many engine oil lubricants in Latin America are formulated only to meet API SM and below, which is not considered suitable for engines produced after 2010. That’s not ideal for modern ICE vehicles, let alone new hybrid vehicles. The result is that end users end up with lower performance and potential engine issues.

Key regions in Latin America are reluctant to move away from Group I base oils. But higher-performing lubricants demand other base oil categories. The situation is understandable, because Brazil is a big producer of Group I base oils, while Group II base oils typically are imported to Latin America. The sourcing proximity and cost savings of Group I base oils for Latin America have limits, however, because formulating to meet the criteria of API SP with a Group I is not technically feasible.

Field Tests Make the Case for Higher Quality Lubricants

What, then, is the right oil for a hybrid engine? The answer to that question depends on the type of hybrid and an understanding of the differences in engine operation compared to other types of engines. 

Lubrizol recently conducted hybrid engine field trials to better understand hybrid engine performance and lubricant formulations. The field trial, which included 370 vehicles from 11 unique makes, took place in a variety of climates in North America, Europe, China and Japan. 

Of particular interest during the field trial was the impact of the lower operating temperature in hybrid vehicles. In the hybrids tested, fuel wasn’t burning off at the same rate as it would in an ICE vehicle. This led to a higher fuel content in the oil of the hybrid vehicles in the test. Greater water ingress was also observed along with viscosity instability. These issues signal trouble ahead for the engine in the form of sludge, deposits, and oil degradation, which hurts fuel efficiency and can reduce the life of the engine.

Meeting the Needs of an Evolving Car Parc

Fuel dilution was identified as the biggest issue for hybrid engines after examining results of the field trial. Additionally, plug-in hybrid vehicles in particular experience a more severe operating cycle.

Lubricant formulations that provide extra protection and durability against wear are needed to protect these engines, and a stronger dispersant/detergent system is needed to combat fuel dilution. 

The growth in production of hybrid vehicles in Latin America, brought about by consumer interest and government influence, provides OEMs and the lubricant industry with an opportunity to educate the region on the importance of upgrading the quality of the lubricants that will meet the needs of this new era of passenger cars.

Our View

Lubrizol’s testing includes field, engine and bench tests that replicate the environment in which hybrids operate – validating the additives’ ability to perform in these unique circumstances.  

To discuss solutions for hybrid vehicles, contact your Lubrizol representative.

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