A battery-powered vehicle doesn’t have the internal combustion engine, which is the major component that requires lubrication. However, these vehicles will continue to have gearboxes, axles, wheel hubs and other lubricant and grease points, although with different lubrication challenges.
While Shell India’s aggregate market share in the overall lubricants space is 5%, in the passenger vehicle segment 80% of all cars in India come with the recommendation of a Shell lubricant, says Mansi Tripathy, country head, Shell Lubricants India Cluster. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, she adds the company already has BS-VI-compliant lubricants. Talking about long-term challenges, including electric cars, she says that although the role of lubricants won’t reduce, different lubrication challenges will emerge. “Transition to electric vehicles will need companies to focus on transmission oil, brake fuels and other oils, and not necessarily engine oil,” she says. Excerpts:
How can lubricants meet the challenge India faces towards meeting ever-tighter emission norms in the auto industry?
The deadline for BS-VI roll-out is 2020, which is not very far away. At Shell India, we are in a strong position to make the transition. Our R&D lineage and patented GTL (gas-to-liquids) technology gives us a portfolio of emission-reducing products that are already compliant with new norms. In fact, we can address the demand surge better as the pricing structure for us is import-equivalent, giving us the advantage of easily importing products to meet the rapidly changing needs of the industry.
Some of our class-leading products are Rimula T5 and Helix HX5 SN 5W-30 oils that enhance fuel economy, with a corresponding reduction in emissions. For example, Rimula T5—that we developed in collaboration with Tata Motors—delivers 3% savings on fuel costs, which is equivalent to Rs 40,000 per truck per year. In the process, it also reduces carbon dioxide emissions from that vehicle, which is almost equivalent to planting 84 trees. Then we have a range called Helix Ultra that delivers up to 2.5% greater fuel economy and reduces emissions. Our Advance Ultra motorcycle oils offer more than 5% fuel-efficiency compared to standard oils.
Most automakers recommended a particular brand of lubricants for their cars. How does this process work?
Automakers either ask lubricant companies to present products to them as per their requirements, or seek a partnership model, where they work with lubricant companies to develop a specific product for a new car or an engine they are developing. In fact, in the passenger vehicle segment, 80% of all cars in India come with the recommendation of a Shell lubricant.
Is it true that lubrication is needed only inside the internal combustion engine?
Apart from the engine, lubricants are used in manual and automatic transmissions, wheel hubs and many other under-chassis applications. Some of these, like engine oil and transmission oil, require periodic changes, whereas many others, especially greases, are filled for life.
Does a petrol car consume a lower amount of lubricants during its life-cycle compared to a diesel car of a similar engine size?
The quantity of oil consumed depends on two things. First, the oil sump capacity, and second, the oil drain interval—both of which are design considerations for passenger car OEMs. If we talk about the internal combustion engine, a diesel engine application is more challenging compared to a gasoline engine in terms of contamination due to the nature of the fuel. However, lubricant technology has advanced to a level where drain intervals and hence oil consumption is optimised to provide the most effective lubrication for a car. Between diesel and petrol, there is no significant difference in lubricant consumption over the lifetime of a vehicle.
With the anticipated increase of electric vehicles on our roads, will the role of lubricants in the B2C automotive sector decline? A battery-powered car consumes a lower amount of lubricants during its life-cycle compared to a typical internal combustion engine car… With the transition to electric vehicles, while the role of lubricants can’t be said to decline, but it will mould itself. It will come down to transmission oil, brake fuels and other oils, and not necessarily engine oil.
We are considering such developments. Also, more electric vehicles on the road will increase the consumption of electricity, which, in turn, increases the consumption of industrial lubricants. An electric car doesn’t have the internal combustion engine, which is the major component that requires lubrication. However, these vehicles will continue to have gearboxes, axles, wheel hubs and other lubricant and grease points, although with slightly different lubrication challenges.
Do solid lubricants have any application in the automotive industry?
Solid lubricants, per se, have limited applications. These are generally used to manufacture greases to bear more shock loads. We have such greases in our portfolio, which are specially meant for off-highway applications, crushers, etc. Solid lubricants are also used as friction modifier additives in engine oils with extremely low viscosities to protection against wear, while contributing to better fuel economy.
Do national oil marketing companies enjoy an inherent advantage over private players like Shell in the B2C space?
Our advantages are no less. We have a lot of experience in our field—both global and local. Our product technology is our strength, and we invest heavily in R&D. In fact, our investment in R&D is over a billion dollars every year. We have 3,500 patents and a huge talent pool—our strength is our people. We have access to the vast knowledge bank from Shell’s operations globally. But national OMCs have the advantage of scale. We have to work harder to achieve benefits in the end-to-end value chain.
What is Shell India’s revenue breakup in B2B and B2C segments?
It’s almost 50:50 between B2B and B2C. Our strength is our varied product portfolio. For instance, during demonetisation, mining as a segment got muted for a while, but we were able to offset the same against the other growing segments.
How will GST affect the lubricant space?
In the long run, GST will benefit the industry. For example, we have 18 storage locations across India. With GST, the movement of goods will be faster, easier and smoother, and we can cut down on storage locations and logistics value involved.
Apart from lubricants, in which all spaces does Shell India operate?
We have about 75 retail fuel outlets (mostly in south India), and are working in the area of integrated gas. We are also working on a new portfolio on renewable energy. Currently, we have over 6,000 employees and have a huge footprint in India. A lot of our key operations—global R&D team, global IT & finance teams—are here. Shell India’s aggregate market share in the lubricants space is 5%. But in some segments like wind energy, we enjoy a 50% share.