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Automakers and oil industry divided on ultra-low viscosity oils

Automakers and oil industry divided on ultra-low viscosity oils

In recent years, advances in engine technology, evolving environmental regulations and the relentless pursuit of fuel efficiency have driven a global shift towards low-viscosity motor oils. The latest generation of gasoline engine oil specifications, ILSAC GF-6B and API SP with Resource Conserving, include engine oils with an SAE 0W-16 viscosity grade. Although ultra-low viscosity grades were discussed at the time, they were not included in ILSAC GF-6 and API SP when first licensed on May 1, 2020.

Early in the development of ILSAC GF-6, the inclusion of ultra-low viscosity grades was proposed but delayed until SAE defined the new viscosity grades and included them in SAE J300. Later in the new category development, an ILSAC member requested the inclusion of SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12 viscosity grades, but the request was not formally completed at the time as technology to test lighter viscosity grades was still under development. In 2019 the Japanese Automotive Standards Organization (JASO) developed the first JASO M 365 and M 366 industry-standard tests to measure fuel economy with these lighter-weight engine oils. 

The SAE 0W-16 viscosity grade was defined by SAE and added to J300 in April 2013. However, SAE 0W-16 and other ultra-low viscosity grades were introduced into the Japanese marketplace several years prior; even before the new viscosity grade was included in SAE J300. Despite the use of ultra-low viscosity grades, the Japanese automakers have questioned the merits of including these low viscosity oils into ILSAC GF-6B, by citing it as a redundant effort to JASO GLV-1 , โ€œNext Generation Low Viscosity Automotive Gasoline Engine Oils Specification.โ€ Members of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) have previously underlined the limited uptake of ultra-low viscosity oils in Japan and indeed globally.

In 2022-2023 the American Petroleum Institute (API), a global standard-setting organisation formed in 1919, suggested that the Auto Oil Advisory Panel (AOAP) be reconvened to consider balloting and adopting SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12 viscosity grades into ILSAC GF-6B. This suggestion was consistent with the proposals for ILSAC GF-7, the next ILSAC gasoline engine oil category currently under development. Subsequently the API Lubricants Group was to consider balloting and adopting SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12 into API SP with Resource Conserving. 

API has previously expressed the need for ultra-low viscosity oils to meet the increasing need for certified, ultra-low viscosity engine oils to protect the new fuel economy, gasoline engine designs from Japanese and European automakers. The API Lubricants Groupโ€™s (LG) efforts to amend API SP with Resource Conserving to include SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12 oils were to be completed sequentially with ILSAC efforts to update the ILSAC GF-6B specification.

However, the prospect of including ultra-low viscosity oils in the ILSAC GF-6B and API SP with Resource Conserving standards has been contentious, sparking debate throughout the discussion and ballot process. Automakers in Japan have been the most vocal opponents of the idea to include ultra-low viscosity grades. Despite agreeing to ballot ultra-low viscosity grades into ILSAC GF-6B and API SP with Resource Conserving, acceptance by AOAP and the API Lubricants Group was never a certainty.

The AOAP Ballot 5998 on the addition of new low-viscosity grades into ILSAC GF-6B did not pass due to negative votes. In an attempt to find resolution to the negative votes, the AOAP chairs, Darryl Purificati and Mike Deegan, determined that some changes to the proposal could potentially resolve the negative votes and allow AOAP Ballot 5998 to pass. These changes were made, and the ballot was recirculated within the AOAP for comment and possible resolution of the negative votes. 

Automakers and oil industry divided on ultra-low viscosity oils
Photo courtesy of LIQUI MOLY

At the meeting on September 5, 2023, the AOAP reviewed the recirculation comments for Ballot 5998. Some AOAP members accepted the revised proposal and changed their vote to affirmative. However, other AOAP members reaffirmed their negative votes. After review of all the recirculation comments, AOAP Ballot 5998 failed to pass and ultra-low viscosity grades were not added to ILSAC GF-6B.

On September 19, 2023, the API Lubricants Group met to review the results of LG Ballot 6103 to add SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12 to API SP with Resource Conserving. This ballot easily met the passing requirement, receiving affirmative votes from the majority of the API Lubricants Group members. However, the process required that all negative votes received with comments and all other comments be reviewed and resolved before a ballot is considered as passing.  

LG Ballot 6103 included three types of comments:

  • Approve with comment: The comments were reviewed and discussed with the conclusion to refer to editorial review or hold for future changes.
  • Negative with comment: The negative vote was reviewed and discussed with the result that the LG member withdrew their negative vote and comment.
  • Non-voting comments: A few Japanese automakers provided comments which ranged from acceptable to not acceptable. All comments were reviewed and considered.

Ultimately, the API Lubricants Group reviewed and adjudicated each of the comments. During the adjudication, it was stressed that today, ultra-low viscosity grade oils are globally marketed. Some have neither certification nor meet OEM requirements. Yet consumers are required to use the low viscosity oils because the vehicle requires it. While it is important to keep OEMs’ requirements in mind, the marketplace needs โ€œcertifiedโ€ engine oil performance based on API industry standards.

Ultimately, LG Ballot 6103 was declared a passing ballot and the ultra-low viscosity grades, SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12, will be included in API SP with Resource Conserving and integrated into the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System (EOLCS). ILSAC noted that there will likely be concerns expressed by some member companies, specifically from OEMs in Japan who provided negative ballot comments.

On October 1, 2023, API announced  that it has formally adopted the SAE 0W-8 and SAE 0W-12 viscosity grades as part of the API Service Category SP with Resource Conserving.