What challenges does the lubricant industry face? With impending bans on traditional vehicles and increasing market share of EVs
At the end of last year, the UK media reported a sixth month consecutive decline in sales of diesel cars. UK Government’s uncertainty about how to treat vehicles once classed as ‘the green option’ has led to consumer caution about buying cars that might be subject to higher taxation in future.
In July 2017, the UK Government declared that from 2040, sale of motor vehicles powered with internal combustion engines, petrol or diesel, would be banned. This followed similar announcements made by the French Government earlier that year. Even Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) followed suit with Volvo and more recently Jaguar Land-Rover announcing the end of petrol and diesel car sales from 2019 and 2020 respectively.
The impact on the automotive sector, its fuel and lubricant sales, as electric vehicle sales increase cannot be underestimated.
Barclays’ analysts reported that if electric cars with greater efficiency increased to one third of the current automotive sector, this would cut global oil consumption by 3.5 million barrels a day by 2025. This is roughly the equivalent of Iran’s current supply of oil at 3.8 million barrels a day that is the Organisation of Exporting Petroleum Countries (OPEC)‘s third largest member.
Globally, demand for oil is still growing. In their 2017 outlook OPEC signalled that the medium-term demand for oil for the period 2016–2022 would increase by 6.9 million barrels a day, rising from 95.4 million barrels in 2016 to around 102.3 million barrels a day by 2022. Developing countries are expected to account for the majority of this increase, with demand expected to increase here by 43.2 million barrels a day in 2016 to 49.6 million barrels a day by 2022.
A cut in automotive demand for oil would effectively wipe out half the expected increase in global oil demand by 2022. But globally, the demand for oil would still increase.
Transportation is expected to remain the largest consumer of oil products, both fuel and lubricants, well into 2040. Much of the sector faces weak competition from alternate sources of fuel and lubricants although improved efficiencies, the rise of hybrid or electric vehicles and a tightening of energy policies will help to decelerate increases in the demand for oil from this sector.
WHAT IS ALLOWED?
Details of the French and UK Governments’ decision to ban conventional internal combustion engine vehicles is still vague. Will hybrid vehicles still be allowed? What about heavy goods vehicles or diesel powered public vehicles such as taxis? Some analysts believe that Governments might have kicked an emissions issue aligned to poor air quality into the long grass. The UK faced with the prospect of fines by the European Union over the quality of its air in cities, needed to be seen to be doing something positive about the issue.
Today’s vehicles are cleaner and leaner than those of ten or twenty years ago. Exhaust after treatment devices, both catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters, have removed many post-combustion harmful gases. Car scrappage schemes promoted by both Government and car manufacturers have incentivised owners to replace ageing vehicles with more modern cars. Changes to car taxation duties reward cars with lower emissions.
Electric cars might not be the panacea for everyone. Limited battery range and the high cost of lithium power cells means that extended ranges between charges of 300 miles or more are not yet a reality. As local town run-arounds or shopper cars, electric vehicles provide a viable alternative to conventional vehicles for journeys typified by short local stops. For longer commuter journeys then electric vehicles alone do not currently provide a realistic solution in the absence of a national and comprehensive electric charging network.
Much needed investment in electric charging stations along major motorway routes and trunk roads still remains in short supply. The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) gave evidence to UK Government’s Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill Committee in November arguing against proposals to mandate electric vehicle charge points in petrol stations and motorway service areas. Although subsidies exist for domestic installation, the Bill proposes that a larger commercial network of charging points would be paid for by fuel retailers who would, by implication, pass the charges back to motorists. Government would not fund such a scheme.
In terms of engine oil and lubrication requirements, hybrid vehicles act in a slightly different manner to more conventional vehicles. A distinguishing feature of hybrid electric vehicle is that the conventional engine switches off when the power available from the electrical cell exceeds that needed to propel the vehicle. This results in lower operating temperatures and higher stress during stop/start for the conventional engine, which could lead to increased sludge and varnish than that of conventional engines.
What of service intervals? In the UK, service intervals of 12,000 miles are usually expected by motorists. In America, some dealers are claiming that hybrid vehicles require oil changes every 5,000 miles or 10,000 miles if using a synthetic, more typical of conventional cars sold in that country. The move to lower viscosity oils could also confuse matters if a motorist has been used to using a 5w30 engine oil in their hybrid ten years ago and today the same, but newer, model of their much-loved car requires a lower viscosity lubricant of 0w20 or less.
For the aftermarket, although electric cars might prove a challenge today, a hybrid car is a more popular and obvious choice for motorists. They provide the assurance of extended ranges for longer journeys similar to that of conventional vehicles, with the benefit of lower emissions under town centre driving conditions.