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Shell to bring PC-11 oils to market early

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Faced with the challenge of having to formulate its oils to a new specification, Shell took the opportunity to completely redesign its portfolio with even tougher future standards in mind.

Shell this week invited journalists to Washington, D.C., where the new CK-4/FA-4 standards were born. Originally known as PC-11 (proposed category), the launch date for the new category is Dec. 1. The standard was driven by government mandates calling for cleaner engines that produce less CO2 and achieve greater fuel economy. Engines designed to meet the impending greenhouse gas (GHG) standards will likely run hotter and manufacturers turned to oil suppliers to develop a better quality engine oil. The result of that will be the introduction of CK-4 and FA-4 engine oils, which will hit the market in earnest in December.

Shell is ready now. It will be rolling out its CK-4 oils in August, though they can’t be labeled as such until Dec. 1. Customers will see improvements, especially in terms of oxidation stability, aeration control and shear stability. It also announced a new Rotella T5 Ultra 10W-30 FA-4 oil that will hit the market in December, giving fleets even greater fuel economy thanks to the lower high temperature high shear (HTHS) properties.

Meeting the standard early should not be mistaken for crossing any sort of finish line, noted Chris Guerrero, global HDEO brand manager, Shell Rotella.

“The fact of the matter is, this is simply where the next chapter begins for Shell Rotella,” he said, adding the launch marks one of the more comprehensive and ambitious product overhauls in the company’s history.

Interestingly, Shell has come to discover even its current CJ-4 engine oils were strong enough to meet the new, more stringent CK-4 specification. However, Guerrero said a decision was made internally several years ago to exceed what’s required and to look for ways to greatly improve its existing Rotella oils. The new CK-4 and FA-4 products were about five years in development, he noted.

“It’s a proud day for us,” added Dr. Richard Tucker, general manager, technology, B2B Lubricants. “This is a culmination of a huge amount of effort.”

Shell has conducted more than 40 million miles of real world testing in developing its new oils. Engine teardowns have proven there is no compromise in terms of engine protection. The CK-4 products will be a straight replacement to today’s CJ-4 category oils and can be used in older engines. Oil companies are still waiting to find out to what extent, if any, engine manufacturers will allow FA-4 in older engines or promote it in new ones.

“Having OEMs mandate the use of FA-4 would be a big help in terms of the acceptance of that product,” said Matt Urbanak, HDEO technology manager with Shell.

Even without engine manufactures pushing the adoption of FA-4, Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager, says a business case can be made for using it based on the fuel savings. While Shell has yet to release any hard fuel economy data, Arcy said customers should see their fuel bills reduced by about 0.5% if running a 10W-30 FA-4 oil rather than a CK-4 of the same viscosity grade. Arcy said a fleet will see about a 2% improvement if it goes from a 15W-40 CK-4 oil to a 10W-30 FA-4.

But without the OEM push, Shell acknowledges the upgrade to FA-4 may be slow out of the gate and so it has decided to initially meet this market’s needs with a single viscosity grade.

“We are prepared to add more viscosity grades to that when we feel there’s a market for it,” Arcy told Truck News in an interview. “Right now, based on our discussions with OEMs, we’re not 100% positive all of them are going to go to FA-4 oils and in our discussions with fleet customers, not all of them are going to go to FA-4 or will be capable of going to FA-4. So after discussions with both OEMs and our customers, we decided that coming out with a 10W-30 in December would be an appropriate product to have to meet those requirements at this time. But if the market requires a 5W-30 FA-4, we’ll have that available.”

To prevent confusion and misfills, Shell’s FA-4 packaging is unique and easy to identify, thanks to a red cap, clear labeling and the use of Ultra branding. If FA-4 put into older engines, the results won’t be catastrophic. Urbanak noted Shell has been testing its FA-4 prototypes in legacy engines without any problems. The only side effects might be low oil pressure at idle or the triggering of engine fault codes.

With two engine categories in the market, fleets will have to be mindful of what they’re buying and putting in their trucks. Shell also pointed out the HTHS properties have a greater influence on fuel economy than viscosity alone. For example, in recent tests, a 10W-30 oil with a lower HTHS number achieved better fuel mileage than a 5W-30 with a higher HTHS number. Similarly, a FA-4 10W-30 is likely to be more fuel-efficient than even a CK-4 5W-20.

Shell is actively doing its part to eliminate all the confusion that seems destined to hang over the roll-out of the new category oils. It continues to update its WhatIsPC11.com website with information about the new products.

As part of its portfolio overhaul, Shell is also introducing its first full synthetic Rotella T6 5W-30 multi-vehicle oil. It meets the CK-4 specification and can be used in both diesel and gasoline engines. The company is also enhancing the packaging of its products to make one-gallon jugs easier to handle and store and is adopting easier-to-read labels.

But even with its product line completely overhauled and the early meeting of the new specification, Urbanak emphasized Shell won’t be resting.

“This is not the finish line,” he said. “Our technological development doesn’t end with the launch of these new products. There will be a significant effort next year around benchmarking our products. We have a helluva lot of engine testing ongoing today and that engine testing will continue as we get access to these newer model year engines.”

What’s next? Urbanak said the company is already testing even lower viscosity engine oils to see how much further it can go.

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