The lubricants market Whilst China’s automotive engine technology has been previously satisfied by lower specifications such as API CD, and CF-4 type lubricating oils, the introduction of imported engine design, technology and manufacture has been a key driver for a more sophisticated, higher-specification market. This has been further enhanced by the dramatic acceleration in emissions regulations from China 1, first implemented nationwide in 2000, to five iterations of China 5 in just six years to 2018, with China 6a set for national roll-out in 2021 and China 6b to follow just two years later – taking the regulations to parity and beyond Euro 6 standards.
As a result of these developments, existing lubricants specifications are being enhanced to meet the latest National Standard GB11122. At the same time, the newer vehicle parc is increasing demand for engines needing low ash engine oil such as ACEA C Grades, API CJ-4, JASO DH-2 and DL-1.
As the chart above demonstrates, high -performance synthetics are now prevalent – with SL and SM lubes taking the majority share. OEM-specific products are also in demand, with VW specs predominant in line with brand popularity.
As with other ‘developing’ nations in an automotive sense, the significant improvement in engine and transmission performance requirements across the parc has led Chinese OEM’s and oil companies to consider creating their own lubes specifications for the domestic auto industry. This is further emphasized in China by enhanced fuel characteristics relating to sulphur, aromatics, etc. In the heavy-duty industry, the call for a China standard is being driven by a consortium of the five dominant vehicle manufacturers, lubricant and additive companies and number of influential independents.
In terms of product marketing, many vehicle owners in China have access to the internet and can order the required fluids on-line. However, the passenger car engine oil market remains predominantly ‘do it for me’ rather than DIY. Mirroring the increased demand for higher grade products, the global trend towards low and ultra-low viscosities is reflected in the Chinese market.
Particularly since 2018, demand for the marketdominant heavy grade 5W-30 has fallen significantly, with the 0W-20 and even 0W-16 now starting to influence consumer figures. The chart also shows a major increase in “others” which are mainly OEM-specific viscosities.