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New low viscosity grade engine oil specification rises from the ashes of category development delays

By Aaron Stone

The Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) has proposed a new viscosity grade engine oil specification for the Japanese market, as its members continue to pioneer lower viscosity grade engine oils. The new specification, which includes SAE 0W-8, is targeted for an April 2019 launch, says Satoshi Hirano of Toyota Motor Corporation during F+L Week 2017 in Singapore in March. This latest proposal is a by-product of severe timing gap between engine oil technology and industry specifications.

Engine oil specifications are essential for defining minimum performance standards for crankcase lubricants. Nonetheless, delays in the release of recent specifications are well documented. ILSAC GF-6, a passenger car motor oil (PCMO) category upgrade for North America and Japan, has slipped again, with expectation of first licensing now pushed back to 2019. Ongoing delays in new standards appear to be pulling the handbrake on engine oil innovation.

Japan has a reputation as a global leader in adapting new technology, and is accommodating an increasing demand to reduce emissions, including CO2. In fact, tighter emission regulations and CO2 reductions will be required in most Asian countries moving forward.

Engine oils perform a variety of functions, one of which is friction reduction. Lighter viscosity oils produce less friction, and thus can help boost fuel efficiency. Japanese manufacturers and OEMs have a burgeoning appetite for low viscosity lubricants to allow customers access to engine oils that provide the best possible performance.

Satoshi Hirano presenting at F+L Week 2017Hirano, who has been responsible for engine lubricant development and research of engine oil related phenomenon in the engine division of Toyota since 2007, suggests many Japanese ‘in-use’ vehicles are already capable of using low viscosity grades, such as 0W-20, 5W-20 and 5W-30. Several Japanese OEMs (including Toyota, Nissan and Honda) have already introduced higher quality SAE 0W-16 products.

Hirano advises there is “significant interest” in SAE 0W-8 low viscosity grade oils and that the oil technology for SAE 0W-8 is “almost ready.” He says, “we can make 0W-8 just by taking out the polymer.” Continually looking forward, JAMA is evaluating opportunities to introduce low viscosity grade options. Traditionally, this has been the purview of SAE International, as SAE J300 is the internationally recognised standard for engine oil viscosity grades.

The introduction of Group III base stock was a key enabler for introducing SAE 0W-20 viscosity grade, says Hirano, who was an engine oil formulator for Chevron Oronite in Japan before joining Toyota Motor Corp. Hirano says “a step change between GF-2 and GF-3 facilitated the introduction of Group III [base] stock in the market.” This has enabled lubricant manufacturers to produce 0W grades with a maximum 15% NOACK volatility.

Since then, Asian refineries have become a major source of Group III base oils which can be used as a cheaper alternative to synthetic base stocks such as poly alpha olefin (PAO) in formulating advanced fuel economy oils such as 0W-20. The total capacity of Asian refineries to produce high performance base oils is much higher than the current demand in the Asian market. Thus, it is technically and economically possible for manufacturers to utilise more Group II and Group III base oils for the Asian market in the near future.

The problem facing Japanese OEMs is the timing gap between technology and engine oil standards, he says. SAE 0W-8 is already there “just by taking out some viscosity.” On the other hand, the engine oil standard is a long way off.

Despite SAE 0W-8’s inclusion by SAE International as one of the SAE J300 viscosity grades on 20 January 2015, and JAMA members’ willingness to adapt SAE 0W-8, Hirano believes licensing of SAE 0W-8 products will likely need to wait until ILSAC GF-7, if the industry develops it through the current ILSAC/API/ASTM system.

With the launch of ILSAC GF-6 still to be confirmed, the delivery of the subsequent GF-7 category may not occur until 2023-24, or even later.

So why is engine oil technology leading engine oil standards? While, admittedly, the speed at which vehicles and engines are evolving has skyrocketed in recent times, Hirano insists the category development process is “not working very well. It could take seven to 10 years to create a new category,” which is not fast enough to keep pace with demand from OEMs for lower viscosity engine oils, which in turn, can help them achieve higher fuel efficiency.

In the past, there has been a significant gap between specification development and product delivery. By way of example, 0W-20 viscosity grade was added in SAE J300 almost 30 years ago, despite the technology not being available for almost two decades. SAE 0W-16 was defined by SAE only in April 2013. But the first 0W-16 product was introduced in the Japanese marketplace even before this new viscosity grade was included in the SAE J300 specification. Hirano says that now the market has surpassed the SAE J300 specification.

How to fill the gap

To overcome significant timing delays, JAMA has proposed the new low viscosity engine oil specification designed for the Japanese market first, most likely as a JASO specification. Targeted completion of development is October 2018, to allow for an April 2019 launch.

While this may appear to be an aggressive timeframe to launch a new specification, albeit for the Japanese industry only, Hirano says they are “eager to adapt new technology,” and owing to the fact that organisational complexity in Japan is less than other markets, they are confident they can deliver on target.

As part of the investigation, a new fuel economy test is required for proper fuel economy evaluation. A candidate engine has been selected and the test will be developed throughout 2017. A durability type test is also necessary, but can be borrowed from ILSAC GF-6, he says.

Hirano says Toyota will “actively participate” in the industry effort to bring SAE 0W-8 technology in the market in a timely manner. If successful, the new JASO Fuel Economy Test will be proposed for ILSAC GF-7 “B”.

The introduction of JASO 0W-8 is not the only upcoming change for the evolving Japanese market. Speaking at F+L Week 2017, at The Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore, Kazuo Yamamori of Toyota Motor Corporation, detailed the planned launch of a new JASO DL-0 Diesel Engine Oil standard.

The standard is proposed as a substitute for the obsoleted API CF-4 category for markets where Euro IV and below levels are currently implemented. Obsoleted API categories (API CF-4 or below) account for more than 40% of the diesel engine oil market in Asian countries, where exhaust emissions regulations range from Euro I to IV.

Kazuo Yamamori presenting at F+L Week 2017While some Asian countries have already made the shift to Euro V or Euro VI, a handful of countries are still behind. Yamamori says the April 2017 release of JASO’s new light-duty diesel engine oil specification, which will be suitable for light-duty truck diesel vehicles, will begin to eliminate low quality oils from these markets.

The leader of the PCMO working group of JAMA and chair of the engine oil subcommittee of JASO, Yamamori suggests that light-duty trucks without diesel particulate filters (DPF) “do not necessarily need advanced low ash engine oil; proper quality with a reasonable cost is required,” he adds. The new JASO DL-0 specification is suitable for markets where Euro IV and below are being used and where light duty vehicles without DPFs are used.

Widespread adoption of the new JASO DL-0 specification is predicted by Yamamori. Two-thirds of current JASO oils will meet JASO DL-0, as the organisation aims to balance quality with practical limits, such as total base number (TBN), sulphated ash and NOACK volatility.

The addition of the new DL type category will occur as one component of revision work on JASO M355. The second revision is a replacement in the seal compatibility test.