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August 10, 2016

Volume 17 Issue 52

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Shell Unveils CK-4, FA-4 Strategy

All eyes are on Dec. 1, the day officially approved for launching products meeting the new API CK-4 and FA-4 heavy-duty diesel oil categories. And with barely four months to go, Shell executives have revealed how they are cranking up the Rotella marketing machine to advance upon that first-licensing date.

Speaking in mid-June to a gathering of trade journalists in Washington, D.C., Chris Guerrero, global brand manager for Rotella and Rimula heavy-duty oils, boasted that “Rotella has been the number one heavy-duty engine oil brand in the marketplace for 40 years, and is number one in automotive retail, too.”

Dan Arcy, Shell’s original equipment manufacturer technical manager, reminded the group that the current category, API CJ-4, launched 10 years ago, and lots of changes have occurred since then in engine hardware and operating conditions. The effort to create the new categories dates to 2011, he added, when engine manufacturers identified critical improvements they wanted from engine oils, including better oxidative stability, greater shear stability and faster air release.

Both CK-4 and FA-4 will have those improvements – and they also will present buyers with a more complex choice than the API CJ-4 SAE 15W-40 product that dominates the North American scene today.

As Arcy explained, oils meeting CK-4 will be fully backward compatible with current API CJ-4 products. FA-4, however, “is aimed mostly at on-highway engines, not off-road,” he said. “It has the same performance as CK-4, but in a lower viscosity to provide fuel economy benefits.” Although FA-4 oils will not be universally backward compatible, some older engines may accept them – or not. “We expect the OEMs to come out with their recommendations in the next few months.”

Both CK-4 and FA-4 engine oils will be available as SAE 10W-30 grades, but the FA-4 version will have a lower high-temperature, high-shear viscosity. That key mechanism will ensure a 1 percent improvement in fuel economy, saving 1 million gallons a day across the United States. However, as Arcy emphasized, FA-4 oils must not compromise the long engine life that heavy-duty fleets have come to expect. “Customers are used to getting more than 1 million miles on their engines and won’t accept shorter engine life just to get fuel economy,” he said.

Knowing that, Shell’s goal “wasn’t to make a product that merely met CK-4 and FA-4 and be done with it,” Guerrero emphasized. “Back in 2012 we decided we wanted to create the most technically advanced Rotella ever. Given that there’s about a decade between heavy-duty categories, we decided we had time to build a much better product.”

Jason Brown, global technology manager for Rotella, went on to outline the specific fuel economy claims for the new formulations, and Matt Urbanak, the brand’s principal formulator, explained how Shell ran “hundreds of engine tests and thousands of lab bench tests, even before we began category-qualifying tests. We had two goals: to surpass CK-4, and to surpass our legacy CJ-4 product, too.”

In fact, the Rotella CJ-4 on the market for the past 10 years “actually passed the new Volvo T-13 test limit for CK-4,” Urbanak added. “So we already had a CK-4 borderline-capable product. We just wanted to go further to differentiate the new formulation versus our legacy product.”

Guerrero took over again to explain how these technical advances will be rolled out to the marketplace. First, starting this month Shell is starting to fill containers of Rotella CJ-4 with its backward-compatible CK-4 formulation. Next, starting in September, the product family will appear dressed in new packaging. And finally on Dec. 1, the CK-4 category will be added to package labels, proclaiming the new formulations inside.

Speaking later to Lube Report, Guerrero conceded that some competitors may use language on their containers that suggests the contents already meet CK-4 – but not Shell. “We intend to stick by the spirit of the category rules, which is to wait until December 1,” he declared. So that’s when the API FA-4 and CJ-4 categories be on Rotella labels and in the API donut trademark on containers.

By December Shell will also have upgraded the six-tier structure of its heavy-duty engine oil lineup, with each tier promising increasing levels of protection. The first three will be pretty much as the market sees now: Tier 1 is the straight grades and lesser-used categories that some customers still want, and Tiers 2 and 3 are branded products sold in bulk for fleets.

Deeper changes are coming with the company’s upper-tier products, those rolling up to the new API categories:

  • Tier 4: Shell Rotella Triple Protection T-4, taking dead aim at the API CK-4 market. 
  • Tier 5: Rotella Triple Protection Plus T-5,” is a group of synthetic-blends, including a 15W-40 and 10W-30 meeting CK-4, plus the lighter SAE 10W-30 grade created for engines requiring FA-4. The latter will be called “Ultra” rather than “Plus” – Ultra being the key word intended to distinguish all of Shell’s FA-4 offerings. 
  • Tier 6 will be full-synthetic SAE 0W-40 and 5W-40 formulations meeting CK-4. 

“And at the top end, this sixth tier will have a new 5W-30 Multi-vehicle Rotella that launches in December in North America,” announced Guerrero. This surprise product will be a full-synthetic designed to serve both diesel and gasoline fueled engines without compromise on either side.

Universal oils have existed for some time, but usually have high levels of phosphorus to satisfy the antiwear needs of diesel engines. This irks passenger car manufacturers, who severely restrict phosphorus because it threatens the catalytic converters on cars and light trucks. When a specification loophole was closed recently and oils were forced to fully comply with both sets of demands, many believed that universal oils were headed for the junk heap.

However, Guerrero stressed that this multi-vehicle 5W-30 will be no common-place, low-budget universal oil. It will be a top-tier synthetic made with Shell’s PurePlus gas-to-liquid API Group III base stock. It will meet API CK-4 and API SN upon introduction, and API SP when that category upgrade finally makes its appearance, he asserted.

Whether customers will pay a premium for a “universal” oil is unclear, Guerrero conceded later to Lube Report – but Shell believes the ease of stocking one top-tier oil that can uncompromisingly satisfy the warranty needs of both diesels and gasoline engines will be music to the ears of mixed-fleet operators.

Meanwhile, Shell is starting to build excitement with bright, shiny new packaging. Gallon jugs will retain the two-handled design popular with buyers, but present a narrower profile that’s easier for marketers to inventory. The bottle colors and labels will be color-coordinated: white bottles and labels for Rotella T-4, silver containers and labels for T-5, and a deep blue for the T-6 offerings.

Image: Shell

New packaging begins to roll out in September.

But on FA-4 containers, there will literally be a red flag: These containers will have a red banner on the front and FA-4 in boldface letters right next to the viscosity grade on the front label. Shell designed and consumer-tested these labels to be sure they are distinctive enough to give casual customers pause, said Guerrero, since this is not their everyday 10W-30.

“It’s important the people who need FA-4 be the only ones who pick up FA-4,” he said. “So we’re using red to identify that, and ‘Ultra’ is our FA-4 offering across the product line.”

Shell’s B2C marketing manager, Megan Pino, explained that a comprehensive media plan has been developed around the new products, starting now with Rotella T-4, “our biggest volume product.” The campaign will include TV, radio, digital and social media, and display advertising. “Those television ads are going to be something unique to Rotella – our competitors are not out there,” she added proudly. Ads will be on cable shows such as the manly barbecue program “Smoked” and the American Heroes channel. Webinars, white papers and a traveling road show will all pound away at the message of fighting wear, oxidation and oil breakdown.