By on October 19, 2010

We smell a trademark fight

This Autoweek article gave me a college flashback: when UT Austin’s Petroleum Engineers offered me a scholarship, but the Mechanical Engineers said no dice.  Mostly because high tech, high mileage oil talk is rather boring.  Much like discussing a cutting edge, long-life coolant before the Dex-Cool fiasco. So let’s open a can of worms for the Best and Brightest, and hit the high points of General Motor’s Dexos1, a somewhat revolutionary engine oil with a distinct lack of testing from the American Petroleum Institute.  As per Autoweek, matters stand like this:

The main difference between Dexos1, which is a GM-licensed brand, and GF-5 oils is testing. To be certified as GF-5, the oil needs to pass a variety of chemistry and engine tests set by the American Petroleum Institute.

But GM’s testing for Dexos1 uses some tests mandated by the ACEA, the European automobile manufacturers association, in place of the American Petroleum Institute tests. For example, Dexos1 oil has to pass Mercedes-Benz’s sludge and fuel-economy tests and Opel’s test for the ability to work under foaming conditions, known as aeration.

I wonder if Dexos1 shall pass VW and Toyota’s sludge tests. I mean, those two gotta have some standards by now. But I digress.

GF-5-certified oils that do not undergo the same tests are subjected to the American Petroleum Institute’s equivalent to be certified.

Right. So should we even care about API’s GF-5 test?  I think I know GM’s answer. And I can hear lawyers foaming at the mouth, formulating their (hyped) class-action lawsuits already. Conversely, everybody loves (GM’s awesome blend of) synchromesh much like our love of the TV show starring Ray Romano. Perhaps we won’t know the real truth without 5 years of real world testing under our collective belts.

Government regulations that call for lower exhaust emissions and higher fuel economy are the drivers behind the new generation of engine oil. GM’s powertrain fuel and lubrication engineers began working on Dexos1 in 2006. The goal was to set an oil specification that met the requirements of all GM vehicles and powertrains globally.

So why bother with regional oil certifications? As platforms consolidate globally, engineering standards should (could?) combine the extreme needs of all continents. Then again, according to my wrench-turning sources, the original Opel/Cadillac Catera’s heat-averse timing gear would beg to differ. One size fits all is a scary proposition.

Have at it, Best and Brightest. We want to hear your slickest comments.

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26 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Can We Talk About Dexos1 And API Testing Standards?...”

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    One powerful reason to keep regional standards is that USA is a region. USA does not like to adopt other country or region or even entire rest of world standards for anything. Its a political preference among those employed by or with the current regional standard.
    On the other hand, since cars run on petro the whole world over and are made of the same stuff, one standard would make sense to the apolitical.

  • avatar

    Why would you NOT want the  American Petroleum Institute as well as the  ACEA, approval on your label?
    I would think all forms of testing should appear, as I believe they do now. This should include Ford, Chrysler and GM approvals as well.

    The label on my Pennzoil Platinum shows EVERBODY’s approval.
    I think even the League of Women Voters has a seal of approval on it.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Read elsewhere starting MY 2011 alternate brand motor oils will void the GM new car warranty.

    That may usher in the $200 dealer-only oil change and, apparently, “dexos 1” is not even a synthetic!

    • 0 avatar

      GF-5 oil can be found in both conventional and synthetic formulations but Dexos1 can only be found as a synthetic, according to Shell, maker of the Pennzoil and Quaker State brands.
      The AW article says it is a synthetic oil.
      I don’t know if voiding the warranty is possible under the Magnuson Warranty Act. But I guess we’re gonna find out real soon!

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      Deeming “dexos 1” a synthetic may have more to do with the domestic motor oil classification system than the oil.

      Synthetic oils are classified into three groups: Group III, Group IV, and Group V.

      Group III synthetics, manufactured from less costly petroleum base stocks, are hydrocracked to remove impurities until they attain synthetic oil properties. The oil and additive companies, which control the  classification system, deem them synthetic – but only for the North American market. Elsewhere they are classified as premium motor oils. Almost all domestic synthetic motor oils are Group III.

      Group IV polyalphaolefin (PAO) and Group V (Ester) synthetics are manufactured from expensive synthetic base stocks and are of much higher quality. They are the only true synthetics. Strict European specifications, set by automakers, require that all synthetic motor oils are Group IV or above. They include Elf (aka Total Quartz), Motul, Germany’s Castrol Syntec 0w30 (aka German Castrol), and Pentosin.

  • avatar

    What’s so different about Dexos1 compared to regular motor oil?  What makes it so expensive and how much is it per quart?

  • avatar

    It seems like those that champion diversity are so eager to adopt global standards and regulations. I guess that was part of the appeal of the gray Mao suit: simplicity and the freedom of not having to make a choice.

    Different standards boards is usually a good thing in that it fosters academic competitiveness.

    In the end, they often reach such similar results so there is a lot more that is complimentary than in conflict.

  • avatar

    I hope this works out for GM because I can see it going horribly wrong. Many VWs now require oil that meet specific VW certifications (like 507.00 or  the older 505.01). And over and over, owners that take their VW to the dealer get the wrong oil dumped in. I can only imagine how it’ll work out at GM dealers. Hopefully GM drills it into the dealers heads. But maybe if dealers don’t comply, GM can get rid of their franchises and use that as a reason. :)

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Hah, good luck getting all GM dealers to sing from the GM song book. Many will continue to buy their motor oils from their favorite/cheapest supplier. I wonder how many dealers are still pumping 10W-30 into everything which comes through the door?

  • avatar

    "Government regulations that call for lower exhaust emissions and higher fuel economy are the drivers behind the new generation of engine oil."

    A non-oil expert such as myself would assume that the new oils must be thinner to improve fuel economy. Hopefully while lubricating as well as current oils under cold and hot conditions. I don’t know thwe connection between motor oils and emissions, unless it is a measure of what they emit when they are burned by getting past valve seals and rings.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      One of the emissions issues is the potential contamination of catalytic converters by the minute amounts of motor oil which ends up being burned in the combustion process. ZDDP has long been a favorite low cost anti-wear additive in motor oils and has been blamed for shortening catalytic converter life. The car companies have been pushing the motor oil industry to reduce phosphorus (the “P” in ZDDP) levels whilst also improving wear protection. The two camps have argued endlessly about this. In the end it really comes down to money. The car makers are required by the EPA to certify the long term emissions compliance of their products and would like to do so with the cheapest catalytic converters possible. The motor oil makers would like to produce acceptable motor oils with the cheapest possible additive packages. Thus the conflict is really over money, but is dressed up as a technical debate.

      As far as fuel economy goes: Generally speaking, the lower the oil viscosity the better the fuel economy. How thin the oil can be whilst still maintaining a lubricating film and thus doing its job is a tricky bit of engineering. The range of demands placed on a motor oil given the huge array of use conditions makes that a particularly complicated problem. Full throttle excursions up the Nevada side of the Sierra Mountings in August are one extreme. Cold morning starts in Minneapolis in January are another thing entirely. The fact that you can readily buy a motor oil which will do both jobs is almost an engineering miracle.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The inexorable trend towards manufacturer specific oil specifications is really about limiting customer choice and thereby increasing profit margins. It has already happened broadly with transmission fluids and the move is under way for motor oils as well.
    Personally, I would love to see the ACEA standards be adopted world wide. Lacking that, at least having API standards set the table for the US market was a good thing.
    As the rest of the world continues to develop and industrialize, US only standards are becoming a more obvious anachronism all the time. Ronald Reagan infamously pulled the plug on the metric standard conversion in the US and now here we are with 5% of the world’s population stuck with a hodge podge mixed system of some fractional and some metric measurement standards. Not being in sync with world standards is a competitive disadvantage on the global stage. Heck, we even lost a $125M Mars probe thanks to confusion over which measurement standards were being used.
    So, I am opposed to a GM specific motor oil specification which is assembled by cobbling together the work of other companies and standards boards along with a few secret sauce standards of GM’s own machinations. The ACEA standards, by the way, are much more sophisticated than the API’s are because the ACEA standard defines several different levels of specification while the API attempts the one-size-fits-all thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      Though the governments of many former British colonies including Canada have attempted to impose metric ordinary people cling to English. It has nothing to do with whether metric is a superior system. Some measures may be better, others worse.

      Metric fans admire the ease of converting metric units into other metric units, but how good is that? The English system’s rich variety attempts to model the way things are used. Who cares how many yards there are in a mile? If the thing is better measured in feet, use feet; if it’s better measured in miles, use miles. If you need to convert between the two use a calculator or Google it. Regardless, these are infrequent and uncomplicated tasks.

      I prefer a system in which I can live. Imperial measurements are useful approximations of real people and real life. Eggheads made metric consistent only with itself. It falls short when an attempt is made to connect it with the thing measured. Try to describe how much is in a metric unit. Mumbo jumbo, like a meter is the length of the path traveled by a ray of light in a vacuum in a 1/299,792,458 of a second time interval, means nothing to most of us. We look for commonsense things like a foot is about the length of your foot, or a yard is about is about one large step.

      There is very little chance metric will come into common use on this continent. As I was finishing this I asked several people how tall they are. Everyone, including fully “metrified” twenty-somethings, replied in English. I’m in a building complex that occupies two city blocks. Building management installed new heating and cooling systems. All gauges and thermostats are in English measure to avoid logging temperatures in half-degrees, necessary in metric for precision.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen to Gardiner’s comment.

      And has any song ever lyrically extolled the clinical sounding ‘kilometer’ instead of mile?

      Contrary to cultural stereotypes, the US has embraced a warmer, more humane system of measurement than the French.

    • 0 avatar

      It depends.  I measure people in feet, but things and distances in centimetres/meters.  I certainly measure temperature in celsius, volume in litres (except beer glasses, which are pints) and mass of anything but people in grams/kilograms.
      I think it depends on how you’re saturated, and popular English culture still deals with people in Imperial units.  “Clinging” is really too strong a word.

    • 0 avatar

      Mumbo jumbo, like a meter is the length of the path traveled by a ray of light in a vacuum in a 1/299,792,458 of a second time interval,
      Guess what, a feet has the same definition as a meter (except obvious a different constant as a feet is by definition 0,3048m)
      And the meter has a common-sense thing has 1/40 000 000 of the circumsphere of the earth unlike the rare feet long foot

  • avatar

    Gardiner, people are more comfortable in the units they grew up using, that’s all.  Metric is clearly a better system to anyone who does calculations — try taking the freshman intro physics exam (no calculators allowed) with metric units and then with traditional English units and see which takes longer.
    A great thing about Metric is that the units are all the same size from place to place.  An Imperial gallon is 20% larger than a U.S. gallon.  (That’s more than the difference between a yard and a meter, and more than the difference between a quart and a liter.)  There used to be different length miles in different countries, and even different cities in the same country.  Fortunately, we’re now down to U.S., nautical, and occasionally Imperial.
    If you don’t like the speed of light definition, maybe you’d be happier with the original definition of 10 million meters between the earth’s equator and pole.

  • avatar

    A great thing about Metric is that the units are all the same size from place to place.  An Imperial gallon is 20% larger than a U.S. gallon.

    Sir – A pint’s a pound the world around.

    • 0 avatar

      Not so:  An (Imperial) pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter.  This is in fact exact, since the Imperial gallon was defined as 10 pounds of water at some specified temperature.  The U.S. gallon was defined as 231 cubic inches which is approximately 8 pounds of water.

  • avatar

    The more recent generations of Candains are mostly converted to metric. Peoples’ heights are one exception, but most of them (unless they spend time in the US or live near the border media) don’t know inches and Fahrenheit. 20C is a nice day in the Big Smoke these days. Many Canadians are of recent immigrant status who also come from metric countries. Because of my personal history, I’m "fluent" in both.

  • avatar

    Last week,while in the U.S. I had a sixteen ounce aluminum bottle at four dollars U.S.? This week, in my own country I have to settle for 341ml glass bottle at 4.25 CDN. With the exchange at par….I prefer the American system.

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