Message 11

Hydrotreated petroleum oil can now be legally called synthetic. Here are the emails sent to our subscribers explaining all about it. Start at MESSAGE ONE, then TWO etc..

Message 11

Postby ogrady » 2005 Wed Nov 02, 12:33 pm


'The Synthetic Definition of Synthetics' Part 1

Once in a while the insider magazine, 'Lubes-n-Greases' publishes an article that perks my interest as it fits right into we consumer types mindset, ie; the vehicles we drive.

Here's an article in the July 2004 issue of 'Lubes-n-Greases' that provides more detail and also reinforces what I've said before in my rant about synthetics not being what we thought and that the consumer need to be aware of this fact.

There is an item or two within this article that I take issue with, so you know I'll jump in with my two cents!

Lubes-n-Greases, July 2004 issue,
'The Synthetic Definition of Synthetics' by Thomas F. Glenn

To the consumer, a synthetic lubricant is defined as "the good stuff."
It's the top-shelf lubricant that costs a lot and significantly outperforms the others, offering superior high- and low-temperature protection, the opportunity to significantly extend oil drain intervals, and "flat-out better lubricity and engine protection."

Consumers define it that way because that's what they were taught with the hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising spent by Mobil, Castrol, Quaker State, Pennzoil, Valvoline, Amsoil and others over the last several decades.

Rather than defining synthetics based on oligomerization reactions, polymerized molecules, codified specifications and other technical jargon, marketers of synthetics knew how to speak the language consumers understand. They are the ones who shaped the consumer's definition and expectation of "synthetics." They did it with bold claims about fuel efficiency and drain intervals that few consumers were willing to test, but took comfort in knowing were there. And these marketers employed creative and compelling ads that spoke to both the real and perceived needs of consumers, on technical and emotional levels.

To the scientists, engineers, formulators and other industry insiders, the technical definition of synthetic lubricants meant that they were made with synthetic base stocks.
In the past, the SAE J357 standard clearly defined these base stocks as being produced by chemical synthesis rather than by extraction or refinement of petroleum.

The SAE dropped this definition, however, over controversy concerning very high viscosity index (VHVI) mineral base stocks in 1996. In spite of this, there was an unspoken rule within the
industry that synthetic engine oils were based on polyalphaolefin (PAO), usually blended with
some ester to solubilize additives, aid in seal swell, and enhance lubricity.

In industrial applications, synthetics covered the use of many different chemistries including PAO, esters, polyglycols, silicone and other high-end, high-price base stocks.
But the technical definition for synthetics and assumptions about the use of PAO changed in 1997.

This is when Castrol made the very daring and financially brilliant move to turn its back on the unspoken rule that synthetic motor oil must be formulated with PAO. It replaced the PAO/ester blend in its Syntec brand engine oil with VHVI Group III mineral base stock - at about half the cost. This enabled Castrol to significantly reduce its base stock costs for the product and increase its margins, while arguably delivering the same performance as with PAO.

Sean here, 'arguably delivering the same performance...'?

NOT!!! shows clearly which products perform not just for a short time, but for an extended time, which is one of the major performance benefits that proper synthetics deliverj, extended drains.
Look at the first graph, 'Thin Film Oxygen uptake', two products here are clearly PAO/Ester, the rest are not, they are Hydrotreated Petroleum.

Although Mobil challenged Castrol's use of the term "synthetic" for the new Syntec formulation by taking its case to the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in 1999, it lost. The NAD, as most in the industry are aware, sided with Castrol. This gave Syntec and therefore Group III the unofficial green light to compete on the same track as PAO and other synthetics.

Aside from some minor grumbling among purists in obscure blogs and on message boards,

obscure blogs? Car and Driver, November 2000 issue is not an obscure blog!!, 'Bait and Switch' within the article clearly defines what they think

The Car and Driver article is here, ... le_id=3631

the NAD ruling and Castrol's switch to Group III was, for the most part, a non-event at the consumer level. Consumers continued to define synthetics as "the good stuff" and demonstrated a growing willingness pay a high premium for it.

The same cannot be said for what it did at the producer level. Here, it had a major impact. Within two years of the NAD ruling, money talked and most followed Castrol's walk, replacing millions of gallons of PAO with Group III in synthetic and synthetic blend engine oils. PAO took a solid punch in the gut and it hurt.

This stirred up a hornet's nest of anger among PAO producers and lubricant manufacturers who stayed with PAO. And according to many, the angry buzz continues.
There is still "raging controversy" in the industry about this issue, says one of the leading producers of synthetic base stocks, and the fight is far from over.

PAO proponents charge that Group III "hijacked the good name and reputation of synthetics; a reputation that was built on the hard work of PAO." Others say it's a classic case of "bait and switch" and consumers should be "outraged!"

One finished-lubricant producer claims that Group III's do a "disservice" to the industry because they "dumb down" synthetics, and that consumers (if they knew) would turn away from synthetics because of it.

In addition, there is a grass-roots effort under way by the Synthetic Lubricants Council to band together interested parties to establish and promote a definition for "true synthetics" that distinguishes them as unique (and presumably better) compared to Group III. The Synthetic Lubricants Council operates under the bylaws of the American Chemistry Council, subject to its ChemStar panel guidelines.

It would be easy to conclude that all of this is simply the noise made by vanquished incumbents in response to a low-cost producer telling them to holster their high-priced guns and get out of Dodge. But such a conclusion masks real and concerning issues behind what clearly has become a synthetic definition of synthetics. This definition is increasingly being synthesized by marketers in an effort to capitalize on a non-technical definition ("good stuff, costs a lot") that has been internalized by consumers.

Next month: A look behind the curtain at some of the more significant concerns about the synthetic definition of synthetics.


Pretty clear I think, buyer beware, do not base what you get in the can, (don't you just love unintentional puns) by what price you paid for it.

A great deal of the industry HAS substituted PAO/Ester base for Hydrotreated Petroleum and is taking greatly increased profits right to the bank on the backs of your wallet.

Drive safe!

Sean Aughey
Are you still on the 3,000 mile oil change treadmill? Put some convenience in your life!
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Joined: 2005 Wed Jan 05, 8:05 pm

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