Lubes producers innovate to differentiate

Lubes producers are facing a range of issues - some new, some old challenges in a new world - which are keeping them innovating to differentiate themselves.

For example, electric vehicle sales (EV) may be increasing exponentially, but the lubes industry still has to maintain supplies to hybrids and internal combustion engine (ICE) cars for many years ahead. As a result, the lubes industry is developing new products and forming OEM partnerships that reflect this challenging balance. 

The movement towards EVs is creating a market focused on greases that can cool and lubricate electric motors, while also protecting the electronics on-board and being compatible with non-metal materials like plastics. However, with at least 40 lubricants required for internal combustion engine (ICE),  BP is one of the many producers walking the tightrope betwen ICE and EV products, in this case through its Castrol brand.  Already in partnership with the likes Ford, JLR, and VAG, it is now looking to jointly brand a range of oil products with Renault

Castrol is also keeping its eyes on market scale, revealing continued investment in India. Despite the current economic slowdown, which it views as short-term, the producers is expecting the number of vehicles to increase. According to A.S. Ramchander, Castrol's Vice President of Global Marketing, the company's focus is on personal mobility, with the emphasis on motorcycles and scooters. 'India is still an emerging vehicle market and we see huge growth opportunity in that space subject to infrastructure etc catching up.' One Castrol strategy will be to look at businesses similar to the lubricants category such as car care fluids which represent an expansion of the company's footprint. 

Elsewhere, Valvoline is also innovating, announcing the launch of its EV Performance Fluids. The range, which will be marketed worldwide includes heat transfer, drive system and brake fluids and greases. And automaker BMW is preparing for the manufacture of pure battery-electric and highly automated BMW cars at its largest European production location. 2021 will see the launch of the BMW iNEXT and is meeting the production needs by investing  €400 million in its Dingolfing vehicle plant. Meanwhile the Indonesian government has revealed that the country could be producing EVs by 2022 with commitments from Toyota and Hyundai to build plants. The government is also encouraging low emission vehicle production and tax breaks for EV battery makers.

Fuchs Lubricants is turning its focus and innovation on reduction of packaging cost and waste.  The independent has invested more than £10 million in targeting manufacturing, research and development (R&D), technical processes and logistics. A recent example is Lube Cube - available to franchised car dealerships in five-litre and 20-litre sizes and is packaged in a predominantly cardboard alternative to plastic. The boxes are easier to stack, with cheaper disposal costs.

French companies are also looking towards the future. Motul has identified the UK as a key growth area and, in line with the move towards more stringent emissions targets and improved fuel consumption, the company has developed new products that meet updated specifications such as Ford’s 952-A and PSA’s B71 2290.

And finally, ExxonMobil is looking to warranties as a marketing tool, recently announcing a new Mobil1 guarantee.  The product promise states if Mobil1’s synthetic oil is provided within the car’s manufacturer warranty period, or up to the first service after that warranty, ExxonMobil will guarantee the engine at no extra cost for a further five years or 100,000 miles against damage resulting from a lubrication fault.