View from the Bridge - March 2016

Amid the turmoil of the volatile crude price, there was a subdued atmosphere at the ICIS Conference in London this year. The lubricants business should be pleased about falling input costs, but these seemed to be outweighed by concerns relating to broader economic growth.

As health issues drive emission control legislation, this year the main conference take-away was fuel economy, the impact this will have on society in general and the lubricants industry in particular. Ever-lower viscosities are coming, as evidenced by the 0W-8 being recommended by Honda in Japan. 0w-20 will start to become more common.

Mike McCabe from Lubrizol suggested that the whole nature of car ownership will change, with self-parking vehicles and serviced cars on demand. As the engine becomes a power plant not connected to the wheels, the lubes requirement will change the dynamic. This will, of course, take some time - up to 10 years - to impact the installed base fully.

Underlying the need for seemingly more complex chemistry is the fundamental debate: “Is lubricant a (car) part?” If the answer is "yes", then the future for some players is bleak. Interchangeability for service fill is an essential part of lubricants marketing.

Ultimately governments and regulators will need to choose between ever-more specialised lubricants for specific purposes, versus improved fuel consumption and lower emissions. Do they favour the OEMs and big lubricants producers, or the consumer who wants competition to create lower cost solutions. Health versus competition - is it possible to create a situation where we have both and, if so, how?

Infineum CEO, Xavier le Mintier put forward the idea that the current system of creating specifications, if not broken, certainly needs significant reform. Can we not have a more encompassing, high-end specification which covers most of the OEM specific requirements?  As an industry we need to resolve these arguments.

Meanwhile despite the general volatility, lubricants continue to be one of the most stable markets in the world. Demand continues with modest changes and the challenge to promote the right products in the right place remain. OATS' new Product Manager, part of the EARL FUSiON platform, meets that need for flexibility and ease of maintenance.

To find out more about how OATS can help your lubes marketing and data activities, simply contact Diana Shen in China or, for global information, you can reach OATS via e-mail or follow our updates on social media via TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Google+.

Sebastian Crawshaw