Engine oil from factory fill to service bays

A recent Frost & Sullivan study conducted among the top private and for-hire fleet managers in the U.S. reveals that fleet managers are ranking advanced engine oils as the most important powertrain related technology in the current operating environment.

While several fleets have started using synthetic and semi-synthetic engine oils for deriving extended drain intervals and reducing downtime, the proliferation of these lubricants in the factory-fill market is still impending.

The choice of advanced lubricants for fuel-efficiency enhancement of trucks has stoked rising penetration and sales of advanced engine oils, and has also triggered formulation changes.

Fuel Efficiency

As diesel price volatility keeps clobbering the trucking industry, and fuel costs continue to prevail as the largest share of operating expenses, fleet maintenance managers are looking at supporting their employers by spec’ing engine oils that contribute to fuel economy improvement of truck engines.

Further, the U.S. government’s new mandate on greenhouse gas reduction, which begins in 2014, will add greater pressures on all corners of the industry to develop powertrain technologies that not only elevate truck fuel efficiency but also reduce emissions.

The engine oil developers have created the PC-11 oil category to enable powertrain system developers, fleet maintenance managers and all other industry stakeholders to derive the maximum financial and performance benefits from the mandated compliance technologies.

Market Penetration

The PC-11 formulation will further catalyze penetration and demand for semi- and full-synthetics. In the meantime, mineral oils will continue dominating the factory-fill market.

Frost & Sullivan’s truck original equipment industry-focused research reveals that mineral oil factory fills are expected to continue being the only option executed by truck OEMs in the short- to medium-term.

This is due to synthetic oil’s high initial cost (nearly three times more) and relative drain interval advantage (around 15,000 more miles in warranty applications) compared to advanced mineral oils.

In addition, there will be approximately 3.7 million gallons in factory fill applications by 2017, growing from 3.3 million gallons in 2011.

Engine Oil Technology

The new generation of engine oil API category, PC-11, also brings along with it a renewed enthusiasm for engine oil technology.

PC-11 will be leveraged heavily in meeting rising performance expectations of new and innovative powertrain technologies developed for the 2014 emission and efficiency standards.

It is anticipated that PC-11 will not only deliver efficiency enhancement and emissions reduction potential, but will also improve compatibility with biodiesel, coupled with better oil oxidation and equipment protection.

Desired Benefits

Frost & Sullivan’s 2012 fleet manager survey shows rising interest in familiarity, desirability and willingness to pay for advanced engine oils. Of the surveyed fleet managers, 37 percent considered advanced lubricants as most important powertrain technology, ranking it the highest in the field.

With operational costs increasing among fleets, nearly six out of 10 fleet managers considered number of miles between changes and extended drain intervals as the most important factors when choosing engine oils.

Fleet managers also cited engine guarantee protection and engine oil brand as other factors in choosing advanced engine oils.

As fleets are keeping their vehicles for longer periods of time, a higher percentage of fleets in 2012 compared to 2010 were found showing interest in the capability of an engine oil in extending the usable life of the host truck.

Synthetic blends will have a place in the aftermarket as these deliver proven advantages, such as improved equipment protection, leading to longer equipment life and extended drain intervals over mineral oils. However, factory fill applications for synthetics will be highly dependent on increasing fuel prices and powertrain needs.

A Focus Shift

The growing importance of advanced lubricants reveals a shifting focus of the trucking industry as operational costs increase and profit margins shrink.

The added pressures of volatile fuel prices and impending stringent regulations in 2014 have increased the awareness of fleet managers towards the productivity of their trucks more than ever before.

Frost & Sullivan believes that with the development of PC-11, engine oil technology will be a significant part of the solution to the complex powertrain-related challenges posed by strengthening regulatory requirements and rising diesel prices.

Sandeep Kar is the global director of commercial vehicle research for Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive & Transportation business. Among his areas of expertise are global commercial vehicle markets and technologies, including powertrain, chassis, safety, telematics and regulation compliance technologies. Frost & Sullivan provides in-depth research and best-practice models to drive the generation, evaluation and implementation of powerful growth strategies for a broad range of industries. www.frost.com.