Shell: Realistic fuel economy claims benefit customers

Aug. 29, 2013

HAMBURG, GERMANY. During a session with North American journalists here on Wednesday, Dan Arcy, global OEM technical director for Shell, and Chris Guerrero, global marketing manager for Shell, spoke of the challenges Shell faces when presenting fuel economy claims for its lubricant products.

“When you run a field trial, there are so many variables,” Guerrero said. “Part of it is educating customers on how to run a fuel trial.”

“[For instance], if you have to replace a tire during a test, it invalidates the test because there can be several percentages difference [between a new tire and a used tire],” Arcy said.

The two were speaking following a day of presentations for international journalists at Shell’s Technology Centre, which is receiving a major renovation and expansion, in Hamburg. The event was organized to give trucking industry journalists a peek inside the facility and what goes on behind the scenes in developing lubricants and fuels.

Arcy pointed out that fuel economy claims can vary by manufacturer and it’s sometimes difficult for customers to decipher what the actual benefit is from lubricants, a point echoed earlier in the day by Keith Selby, global technology manager, heavy duty diesel engine oils.

“When you are presented with data from oil companies, you really have to ask where that data came from because it can really vary based on operation,” Selby said.

The percentage of fuel economy gain can vary based on engine type, engine oil and engine operation (torque and speed), Selby noted in his presentation.

“You can run it in the labs, you can run API tests, but you have to get out in the real world,” Arcy said.

To prove the point, Arcy talked about three tests run by Shell on its Rotella T5 10W-30 FE oil. In a closed track test simulating highway miles, a Class 7 vehicle saw a 1.6% mpg benefit with the oil over a 15W-40 oil, he said.

“It was a very statistically designed test to ensure we got very credible numbers,” Arcy said.

A second test was run using 10 Class 7 delivery trucks operating in real-world conditions in Houston, Texas. Those vehicles alternated oil types, five using a 10W-30 and five running 15W-40. At the conclusion of each month, the trucks running the 10W-30 switched to the 15W-40 and vice versa.

“When you do that, you try to remove any variation between trucks,” Arcy said. “What we came out with was about a 3.3% [mpg improvement].”

The third test involved Schneider National operating Class 8 vehicles under highway conditions. Those vehicles, testing under the SAE J1321 standard, saw a 1.57% mpg improvement.

The variations are explained by the operating conditions, Arcy said.

“When you are operating around Houston, you spend a lot of time idling; you head out heavy and return light; and you spend a lot less time in low-torque driving,” Arcy said. “When you operate on the highway [you need more torque for more extended periods of time].”

What Shell tries to do from a marketing standpoint is present realistic claims, Guerrero said.

“[Customers] appreciate the realistic numbers,” he said. “They sometimes are numb to the [inflated] numbers that are being thrown out.

“As one guy years ago said, if I used everything people tell me saves fuel, I’d be selling diesel back,” Guerrero related.

Both men said that OEMs and customers are becoming more acceptant of 10W-30 oil as it has proven fuel economy benefits without adding to component wear.

“Fleets are starting to be more receptive to this,” Arcy said. “A good number of larger fleets in this country have switched over to 10W-30 because for them, it was not thousands of dollars in savings, it was millions.”

But despite the fuel savings benefit of lower-viscosity fuels, component durability is still questioned by some, Arcy said.

Lubricants reduce friction wear by creating a film to prevent contact/sticking of components, Richard Tucker, general manager of technology for commercial fuels and lubricants, told attendees. A point further emphasized by Arcy.

“Keeping an engine clean is one of the keys to performance [and component life],” Arcy said. “And if you can keep oil out of it [and protect components], you get more extended life and less wear.”

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