New Motor Oil Hitting Market

A new motor oil for passenger vehicle engines is descending on the market during the next several months. Known in the industry as GF-4, the new oil is formulated to extend the life of a vehicles' emission systems. But many dealership service personnel are unaware of the impending arrival. The International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee of auto and oil companies began developing

A new motor oil for passenger vehicle engines is descending on the market during the next several months. Known in the industry as GF-4, the new oil is formulated to extend the life of a vehicles' emission systems.

But many dealership service personnel are unaware of the impending arrival.

The International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee of auto and oil companies began developing standards for GF-4 about three years ago. Final approval came this year.

The new formulation is necessary because the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated federal standards to further reduce emissions, beginning with '05 vehicles. Part of the mandate requires emission systems to last a minimum of 120,000 miles.

Phosphorus and sulphur levels in the current oil, GF-3, potentially could reduce catalyst effectiveness before 120,000 miles.

The GF-4 standards reduce phosphorus content from the current level of 0.1 % in today's GF-3 oils to 0.08 %. In addition to extending the lifespan of vehicle emission systems, the committee says GF-4 will provide better fuel economy and will better control oil oxidation, or thickening.

The committee planned to have GF-4 ready for the '04 model year, but delayed the approval process so more testing could be done to prove GF-4 oils would be compatible with older engines.

The American Petroleum Institute started licensing GF-4 oils on July 31. Oil companies have nine months to phase in their individual brands of GF-4-compliant oils before the institute stops licensing GF-3 oils in April 2005.

The market will be a “wild card” until then as companies begin to roll out their GF- implementation strategies, says Jim Doyle a ConocoPhillips Co. manager for regional fleet operations.

Oil change facilities, including dealership service departments and quick-lube operations, must stock both GF-3 and GF-4 oil until April, and that may create some confusion in the market.

Some companies have yet to announce their rollout plans, but there are indications some may wait until the April deadline to eliminate GF-3 before they begin selling GF-4.

ConocoPhillips, however, is aggressively launching its brands of GF-4. The Houston-based oil company is upgrading several of its conventional-petroleum blends to synthetic blends as part of its adoption of GF-4 standards. Other oil companies might follow suit, which could make conventional blends almost extinct in a few years.

Dealership service managers say they have not heard of the impending changes in passenger-vehicle engine oil. “It's news to me,” says Chuck Holland, service sales service manager for Genthe Chevrolet in Southgate, MI.

Brian Prokop, service manager for the David Bruce Auto Center in Borbonnais, IL, also says he has not heard anything about GF-4 oil.

“It doesn't surprise me that service managers don't know,” says Doyle. “The industry has done a poor job of announcing this.”

But he says service managers should get up to speed quickly.

“I can't imagine a new-car dealer not addressing this,” says Doyle. There are questions still to be answered, such as whether auto makers will consider '05 vehicles that used GF-3 oil eligible for new 120,000-mile emission-system warranties.

Douglas Greenhaus, director of environment, health and safety for the National Automobile Dealers Assn. believes the introduction of GF-4 will cause little, if any disruption in dealerships' service departments.

“I don't think the new oil will make much difference in the dealership,” Greenhaus says. “The question for dealers, however, is whether there will be a price increase for GF-4 oils.”

Already, there are reports that that the GF-4 formulation will cost as much as 40 cents more per quart than the GF-3 oils. That's a big increase, says Doyle. “Typically, the price increase for a new oil formulation is about 15 cents.”

Says Holland: “I guess that means we'll be changing our price menus here.”

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