With the release of many new products – regardless whether it’s oil, engines, tires, movies, music or beer – most of the general public keeps a healthy skepticism.
In 2006 oil developers unveiled plans to release CJ-4 – a new line of Heavy Duty Engine Oils (HDEO) to compliment the new line of engines being produced to meet 2007 emission standards. The main objective of the new line of engine oils was to ensure the longevity of the newly added Diesel Particulate Filter, which is mandated to last at least 150,000 miles before cleaning.
Along with the announcement of a new motor oil formulation to handle the demands of the 2007 engines came a few lingering questions regarding the new oil’s performance. Falling in line with new environmental regulations was good, but fleets wanted assurances drain intervals would not be reduced, cold weather operability would remain on par, the cost would not come at too much of a premium, and engine wear and performance would not be sacrificed.
Released in October 2006, CJ-4 has been out on the open road for about a year now, and according to the manufacturers, and our research of fleet managers’ observations, it has performed as expected, which is an improvement over its predecessor CI-4 Plus.
“We’ve been really pleased with what we’re seeing from the field tests so far. The category was designed to be more capable than CI-4 Plus, and so far from what we’ve seen it is,” said Clint Smith, marketing technical service with Imperial Oil. “In terms of viscosity wear, control and cleanliness we’re really pleased with what we’re seeing in field tests.”
“They are doing really well,” agreed Lenore Indarsingh, brand category manager for driveline products with Shell. “In the lab we saw about a 50% reduction in wear and that was validated in our field tests. Now we’re really seeing evidence of that in the field, outside of the field tests that support our lab results, with actual customers.”
Our own annual Equipment Buying Trends Survey of more than 300 fleet managers across Canada bears out the claims of the motor oil producers. This year’s survey found significant improvement in managers’ perceptions about the performance of the new oils. For example, last year only 61% of managers responding to the survey thought the new oils would help maintain engine wear at previous levels and 11% thought the new formulations would actually cause a deterioration. This year 78% of respondents thought engine wear will prove to be about the same with the new oils and none thought it would decline. On the important issue of combating soot buildup, there has been a particularly remarkable change in perception. Whereas last year only 48% of respondents thought the new oils would be able to handle soot build up as well as did their predecessors and 18% expected things to deteriorate, this year 65% thought the new oils were doing as good a job as in the past and only 6% thought performance had declined.
Another concern centred on smooth cold starting. During the winter months, oil producers found no evidence the new CJ-4 would operate less effectively than the CI-4 Plus formula.
“We’ve had no more issues with CJ-4 due to cold weather than we have had in the past,” noted Indarsingh. “Cold weather issues can be coupled with maintenance and driver operation, as well and we’re not getting anything unusual.”
And as Imperial’s Smith points out, the CJ-4 oil is new but it’s not a completely different oil.
“The new oils were blended to the same low-temperature standards as CI-4 Plus,” he stated. “The new CJ-4 is more robust against viscosity thickening due to soot, so there actually should be fewer issues due to that.”
As our survey found, 76% of managers believe cold weather performance is on par with the previous oils and only 1% reported a deterioration.
There was some concern the new CJ-4 oil may impact drain intervals. One of the differences between the two oils is CJ-4 comes with a lower total base number (TBN), which could shorten drains. With the introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel and with many drains performed due to soot accumulation rather than TBN count, there has been no evidence so far drain intervals have been reduced, according to Smith.
“Drain intervals are really dependent on the duty cycles of the engines. It really is too soon to draw any conclusions right away,” added Indarsingh. “It’s tough to say whether drain intervals have been impacted. Once more 2007 engines are in use we’ll have more points of reference.”
Last year only 56% of our survey respondents expected the drain intervals to remain the same with the new oils and 15% expected them to be worse. This year 74% told us their drain intervals were as good as before and only 1% said they were worse. Also, the number of fleets using drain intervals above 25,000 km has remained steady with past years at 33%.
With a shortage of 2007 engines on the road, many oil producers have also found it difficult to gauge the new oil’s ability to impact engine life and a few more cycles are required before tested engines are opened up for inspection.
“It’s way too early for them to see any impact on their operation or engine life yet,” explained Smith. “No news is good news at this point. You see faults and flaws early, and word does get around. But for positive results it takes time to accumulate that data.”
As well, with the new HDEO engineered to match the new line of 2007 engines, many fleets are slow to purchase the new brand as they are still using pre-2007 trucks.
“It’s slow to be adopted, mainly because a lot of fleets bought 2006 engines, so the 2007 engines are not selling as fast,” said Bill Stewart, national accounts manager with Chevron. “In the second half of this year you’ll see some people start buying it. It has been slower than the industry anticipated.”
With a bit of a cost premium placed on the CJ-4 oil – roughly 10 cents per litre – many consumers have delayed switching to the new oil and as long as there is customer demand, many of the oil producers plan to keep producing CI-4 Plus.
“We went to the market saying when do you need to switch? They want a very slow switch and we’re ready to go whenever the customer is ready to make that switch,” said Mark Pagnanelli, sales and marketing manager with Castrol. “Everyone was involved so heavily in the pre-buy that they don’t need it yet. Really from an overall standpoint we’ll use it as long as the market needs it and we let our customers dictate the transfer. Both will be around for the foreseeable future.”
For its part, Petro-Canada says its CJ-4 has been accepted more readily than expected. As a result, Petro-Canada’s Colleen Flanagan recently said the company intends to accelerate its plans to phase-out CI-4 Plus.
“It’s our hope to replace our CI-4 product sooner than we had originally planned,” she said. “At the same time we want to make sure we are servicing all of our customers with the products that they want. So, definitely sooner – but we haven’t determined that timeline yet. And we’ll certainly make CI-4 products available to customers who prefer to stick with the traditional line.”
Our survey found that one third of fleets intend on stocking only CJ-4 and servicing their entire fleet with it as they introduce 2007 engines to their operations. That’s more than double the number who said likewise last year. Another 29% said they planned to keep separate supplies of CJ-4 for their 2007 fleet and conventional oil for their older fleet. Another third remain undecided about which way to go but that too marks a significant shift from the almost 50% who were sitting on the fence a couple of years ago.
Adding to the slow switchover, however, is the size of the off-road community, which is using different fuel blends (ULSD is not required until 2010 for off-road vehicles) and trucks than their highway brethren.
“There’s a large community in Canada that does not have DPFs – our off-road customers, woodlots, mining – and their experie
nce with CI-4 Plus is positive and they’re not exactly excited about changing,” explained Smith. “However there is no doubt in our mind they would benefit in wear and durability using the CJ-4 product.”
Although many of the oil producers have planned to let the market dictate when CI-4 Plus will no longer be required on store shelves, the day will eventually come. And these experts claim a clean switch to CJ-4 could save potential headaches from stocking two types of oils.
“From the standpoint of worrying about two oils, when receiving the new 2007 trucks just switch over because CJ-4 is backwards compatible and you don’t have to worry about misapplication or storing two oils,” suggested Pagnanelli. “Basically when they’re ready to use CJ-4, they should make the switch.”
“When 25% of your fleet requires CJ-4 it probably is best to make the switch,” advised Stewart. “You’re not going to want to have two bulk systems.”
Our survey found that the majority of fleet managers – 45% – want at least half their fleet to be operating on CJ-4 before switching their bulk stock to this grade. More than two thirds now expect to switch to CJ-4 as their bulk stock by 2009.
As CJ-4 slowly works its way farther into the marketplace, a new round of environmental regulations waits on the horizon in 2010; and whether or not it will be compatible to the new engine systems in 2010 is anybody’s guess.
Many oil experts are not comfortable speculating on what will be required in 2010. Whether a new oil will be required will largely depend on what changes the engine makers plan to make inside the engine.
“We anticipate a new oil,” predicted Chevron’s Stewart. “We haven’t been able to pass a new specification without a new oil yet.”