Is Clean Technology Really That Good?

Peter Els

With the automotive industry reeling from the Cancun Agreement, which was signed by the world’s leaders in 2010, it was clear that manufacturers were on the brink of a technological revolution.

Incremental improvements would not meet the forecast reductions; to achieve these, engineers across the world turned to electrification, downsizing and redesigned transmissions.Developing these technologies, OEM’s have made amazing advancements over the past decade. Whilst the benefits of these radical technologies have been widely publicized, there are still some rough edges that need to be addressed.

JD Power reports a decrease in dependability

Vehicle dependability, which J.D. Power expresses in problems per 100 ("PP100") vehicles, rose to 133 PP100 in the 2014 study, down from 126 PP100 in 2013. Alarmingly this is the lowest recorded in the 25-year study's history.

The results show that drivetrain problems led to most of the increase, as four-cylinder engines and large diesel motors accounted for more problems than conventional five- and six-cylinder engines. According to David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, although there was a minor increase in technology problems, particularly around things like hands-free, voice recognition and navigation systems, powertrain was the major contributor.

The significant improvements in fuel consumption and emissions figures over the past decade have come at a price, with an increasing number of consumers complaining that their vehicles are not performing well. Complaints of stumbling and hesitation on takeoff and acceleration, and erratic or harsh shifting from the transmission are on the increase.

Downsized forced induction engines are prone to higher oil consumption

In order to achieve ever tightening emissions regulations manufacturers are downsizing engines and then adding turbochargers to improve performance and drivability. The resultant increase in cylinder Break Mean Effective Pressures, often in conjunction with thinner ring packs, have led to a steady increase in engine oil usage.

Newer models from Audi and BMW, amongst others, are burning a lot of oil between routine oil changes, according to a consumer survey from Consumer Reports. The magazine’s 2014 Annual Auto Survey found that a significant number of consumers with vehicles from the 2010 to 2014 model years have to add a liter of oil to their engines as frequently as every month. Whilst not downsized engines, the worst offenders are high efficiency forced induction engines, and with downsizing relying heavily on tubocharging, this may be predictive of what lies install for these high performance, low emissions engines:

  • Audi’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 3.0-liter V-6
  • BMW’s 4.8-liter V-8 and twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8

0il consumption vs load

oil Concumption vs. Load

Image Credit:

BMW spokesman Hector Arellano-Belloc explains: "Oil consumption is normal on all engines as it is necessary to properly lubricate the cylinder walls, pistons, piston rings, valves and turbochargers."

Nevertheless, consumers that end up paying for higher oil consumption are taking on the OEM’s, seeking compensation for what they believe to be defective engines.

In North America owners of Audi’s fitted with 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines launched a class action against VW, claiming the engines contained a defect that caused them to consume excessive amounts of oil.

In a recent settlement Audi was not required to admit liability or wrongdoing, but the automaker will have to extend warranties on affected vehicles to 100,000Km. Under the settlement affected vehicles are also eligible for engine adjustments to control oil consumption, and Audi is expected to reimburse the plaintiffs for services performed on the affected vehicles before the settlement.

Although consumers are claiming compensation for the additional running costs, the real affect of this increased oil consumption is in the unintended increase in emissions: When the approximately 2000 – 3000 ppm sulfur normally present in motor oil, is oxidized during combustion it produces SO2 which reduces the efficiency of the exhaust catalyst. Furthermore, other oil byproducts, such as phosphorus, influence sensor characteristics which lead to incorrect engine management and further reduce catalyst performance and increase emissions.

Oil manufacturers take action

With engine hardware-design changes being dictated by the need to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, motor oils need to meet the challenges of the evolving technology with unique solutions.

Joan Evans, Infineum industry’s liaison advisor, believes new tests to evaluate lubricant performance in emerging hardware platforms is critical in meeting customer demands and government regulations. In order to do this, a new GF-6 motor oil specification, ILSAC GF-6 is under development.

ILSAC GF-6 is a new GF-6 motor oil specification proposed for licensing by the new Auto-Oil Advisory Panel, between June and September 2016. The Auto-Oil Advisory Panel, co-chaired by Teri Kowalski of Toyota and Luc Girard of Petro-Canada, replaces the ILSAC/ oil category development system.

The new category calls for improvements in fuel economy and better engine protection than currently exists at lower viscosities. For ILSAC GF-6 four requirements have been identified:

  • Improved fuel economy. This must be maintained throughout the oil change interval.
  • Adequate wear protection during frequent starts in micro hybrids. These engines experience frequent starts and/or starts after extended periods of downtime.
  • Enhanced oil robustness. This applies to spark-ignition internal combustion engines and is necessary to ensure acceptable engine oil performance in regional markets due to service requirements, fuel availability, environment issues, etc.
  • Protection against low-speed engine pre-ignition (LSPi). This specifically refers to LSPI attributed to engine oil.

One condition that the proposed testing must identify is low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI) which is a concern as it has been observed in the new generation of smaller-sized direct-injection turbo powered engines. Many automotive OEMs believe the occurrence of LSPI is related to fuel and lubricant properties. With the proliferation of downsized turbo engines it is important that GF-6 has a meaningful test to screen for lubricant- and fuel-related LSPI events.

Chris Castanian, OEM liaison manager for Lubrizol in Wickliffe, Ohio, explains that in severe cases, LSPI can damage pistons, degrade performance, lower fuel efficiency and increase emissions, and therefore it’s important to include performance-based engine test addressing LSPI in GDI engines.

OEM’s, facing the challenges of meeting ever tightening regulations whilst achieving increasing customer expectations, would be wise to take consumers opinions seriously. As with any new technology there will be teething problems, but left unaddressed in a new technology may sway consumers’ sentiment against the noble aims of the industry.


V&F Analyse und Messtechnik GmbH - Engine Oil Consumption Measurement

J.D Power - J.D. Power durability Study 2014 Ford projects utility vehicles to account for 29% of its global sales by end of decade – Green Car Congress

Consumer Reports - Excessive Oil Consumption Isn't Normal

Infineum International Insight - ILSAC GF-6 and PC-11 updates


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IQPC Gesellschaft für Management Konferenzen mbH
Adresse: Friedrichstrasse 94, 10117 Berlin
Telefonnummer: 030 20913 -274
Fax: 49 (0) 30 20 913 240
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Registereintragungen: Amtsgericht Charlottenburg HRB 76720
Umsatzsteuer- Indentifikationsnummer DE210454451
Geschäftsführung: Silke Klaudat, Richard A. Worden, Michael R. Worden