While AMSOIL believes that
synthetic lubricants should be made from premium
grade PAO synthetic base stocks, many lubricant
manufacturers choose to use mineral oils as
their basestocks, greatly impacting the quality
and protective ability of their oils.
Consumers should be aware
that different definitions of what a "Synthetic"
oil is will determine the value of the product
in protecting your equipment. AMSOIL believes
that the bottom line is our products ability
to protect your equipment.
The following articles from
Lubes 'N' Greases, the recognized leading publication
for the lubricants industry, outlines and details
what the various manufacturers consider to be
synthetic. What's important to note is that
not all synthetics are truly synthetic.
The Synthetic Definition
by Thomas F. Glenn
Lubes 'N' Greases - July
To the consumer, a synthetic
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
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.
Buth 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> I 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.
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 the Syntec
and therefore Group III the unofficial green
light to compete on the same track as PAO and
Aside from some minor grumbling
among purists in obscure blogs and on message
boards, the NAD ruling and Castol's switch to
Group II 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 to 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
This stirred up a hornet's
nest of anger among PAO producers 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 IIIs 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 underway 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, 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.
How Much Synthetic's in that
by Thomas F. Glenn
Lubes 'N' Greases - September
Synthetic blends of
passenger car motor oil command a significant
premium in the U.S. market, with the leading
brands retailing for an average $2.30 a quart.
When you compare that with the current average
for conventional PCMO (about $1.60), it is clear
that the "synthetic blend" concept
appeals to consumers and garners considerable
These lubricants represent
a rapidly growing segment of the automotive
engine oil market. Several viscosity grades
(SAE 0W-X, 5W-20 and 5W-30) all but require
the use of some synthetic base stock to reach
the new GF-4 performance level. Demand for these
grades is growing, too, as more automakers emphasize
the fuel economy benefits of low-viscosity oils
and recommend them for their new cars.
Pop Quiz for all you who make
a living selling these high-value, premium-quality
Q. How much synthetic is
in a synthetic blend?
Regardless of your answer,
you are likely right. That's because there are
no rules, regulations, standards or other precepts
that govern how much "synthetic" a
blend must contain. Instead, it's left to the
company that blends and markets these products
to decide. Rather than having to comply with
restrictive definitions or limits set by SAE
International, the American Petroleum Institute
or any other standards organization or industry
watch-dog, formulators have the freedom to do
as they see fit when deciding how much synthetic
to put in a synthetic blend. And what they see
fit to do varies considerably.
Some - albeit very few - say
the term "blend" implies to the consumer
a 50/50 mix of conventional and synthetic base
stock. Some further feel obligated to use PAO
base stock for the synthetic half of the blend
since PAO (polyalphaolefin) is what the consumer
originally was sold on as being synthetic. They
maintain that although you can reduce costs
by replacing PAO with API Group III base stocks,
it would be unethical to do so without first
telling consumers about the change.
Then there are those who,
although agreeing a blend should contain 50
percent synthetic base stock, maintain that
there is no reason to use PAO since Group IIIs
are synthetic base stocks and perform equally
as well. In their minds, it's certainly not
unethical to replace PAO with Group III; after
all, Group IIIs were accepted as "synthetic"
years ago by the National Advertising Division
of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Moreover,
since Group III costs about half as much as
PAO, they save close to $2.00 a gallon on the
costs of goods sold. Although this lower coast
may not pass through to the consumer in the
form of a lower price, they see it as a win/win
for both the supplier and buyer.
Most lubricant manufacturers,
however, take a different approach. Although
they may elect to use Group III instead of PAO
due to cost, the amount of "synthetic"
base stock used in their blends often is reported
to be lower. Instead of the expected 50 percent,
these blends typically may contain 10 to 20
percent Group III blended with 80 to 90 percent
conventionally refined base stock. This amount
of synthetic base stock, advocates say, is sufficient
to deliver "measurable performance advantages."
In addition, they maintain this approach delivers
optimum value because it strikes the best balance
between cost and performance. Understandably,
the cost of goods sold for manufacturers who
take this approach is even lower than for those
in the previous two examples.
Finally, there are a few who
reportedly say that you don't actually have
to use any synthetic base stock at all in a
synthetic base stock at all in a synthetic blend.
They assert that since additives comprise roughly
20 percent by volume of an engine oil and additives
contain fully synthesized molecules, any engine
oil containing additives constitutes a synthetic
blend. By taking this approach they feel they
can legitimately label most engine oils as "synthetic
blends," and enjoy a manufacturing cost
significantly below virtually everyone else
in the business.
Most understandably will cry
foul and say that this last approach is irresponsible,
unethical and deceptive. Others, however, could
counter that these charges are no more than
mudslinging about where one elects to participate
along a quality continuum of products that can
comprise anywhere from 1 percent "synthetic"
material. Unfortunately, they could be right,
even when what they are doing is wrong for the
consumer. Remember, there are no rules that
govern how much synthetic a blend must contain.
It's up to the company that blends and markets
these products to decide.
Is it time to better define
"blend" products? In the words of
Lou Burke, manager, commercial lubricants, at
ConocoPhillips, "Defining a minimum synthetic
base oil content is vital for the synthetic
blend category to have any true meaning in the
Still unconvinced that this
high-value lubricant category needs to be better
defined? Here's Poop Quiz No. 2:
Q. How much synthetic is
in a full synthetic?
Glenn is president of Petroleum Trends International,
a market research and consulting firm, specializing
in lubricant marketing, manufacturing and channel