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Key Trends in the Lubricants Industry in 2024

2024-06-06

Change is ahead for the global lubricants industry. For industry professionals across the value chain, preparing for these key trends will lead to the industry’s collective and continued success.

Are you ready for change? Because it’s coming to the global lubricants industry.

This may not sound surprising or new. Change has been a theme in our space for the past several years as we’ve grappled with the rippling effects of a pandemic, the ongoing need for higher levels of performance from our products and other factors.

But more is coming.

Population growth around the world, increasing urbanization and other broad demographic shifts will begin to fundamentally alter how we think of mobility. Connected, autonomous, shared and electric technologies—often referred to collectively as CASE technologies—and other breakthroughs may upend the concept of the personal automobile in the coming years. And perhaps most importantly, ongoing decarbonization and sustainability efforts grow apace and will have widespread new implications for lubricants in every application.

While additives and lubricant businesses have certainly contributed to sustainability in many ways, industry stakeholders should expect new challenges and opportunities in the years ahead.

For example, European legislation requires that the fleet-average CO2 emissions of new vehicles (both light-duty and heavy-duty) registered in 2025 be 15% lower than the levels in 2021. To meet these requirements, vehicle manufacturers are increasingly adopting lower-viscosity engine oils, with SAE 0W-20 engine oils now used as the factory fill option for many engines.

Furthermore, plans to introduce “in-service verification” rules are under development, aiming to ensure CO2 performance is maintained throughout vehicle lifetimes. Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are therefore adopting stricter servicing, requiring the same engine oil specification and viscosity grade to be used for the entire life span of a vehicle.

Meanwhile, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced strict new emissions rules for 2027-2032 model year vehicles. This is one of the reasons why ILSAC GF-7—the successor to ILSAC GF-6, which just received first licensing in 2020—has been requested by the first quarter of 2025. The ILSAC GF-7 specification request encompasses crucial improvements across a wide range of performance characteristics, and the industry will focus intensely throughout 2024 on proving the technology related to this specification’s requested improvements, including the following:

  • Enhanced piston cleanliness

  • Improved fuel efficiency

  • Protection against low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI) in aged oil

  • Adaptations to accommodate the increased adoption of gasoline particulate filters (GPF)

  • Reduction in timing chain wear

  • Oil pumpability

  • Gelation performance

  • Material compatibility with new seal elastomer materials.

Elsewhere, governmental bodies are proposing the outright banning of the internal combustion engine (ICE). For example, a ban on ICE-powered cars is intended to be a major component of the European Union’s plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, with the proposal of a total ban on the sale of new diesel and gasoline cars by 2035. In the United States, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 2023 finalized a rule to phase out the sale of new diesel- or gas-powered cars in the state by 2035. The rule will require 35% of new cars, SUVs and small trucks sold to be zero-emissions vehicles starting in 2026, increasing to 68% in 2030 and 100% in 2035. In 2022, zero-emissions vehicles made up about 16% of new cars sold in California. The rule also sets durability, warranty and other provisions on zero-emissions vehicles.

Finally, numerous industries are also seeking lubricants that are friendlier to the environment. Significant volumes of industrial fluids leak into the environment through machine seepage, spillage and careless disposal every year. As the world continuously seeks to become more environmentally conscious, minimizing the impact of such losses has become increasingly critical—and it is why demand for environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs) will continue to grow in 2024 and beyond. EALs are fluid formulations that have been shown to meet such regulatory standards for biodegradability, non-bioaccumulative potential and minimal toxicity to aquatic life compared to conventional lubricants.

Taken collectively, these measures point to a new normal when it comes to sustainability efforts—one that continually requires performance enhancements for finished lubricant products. Next-generation engine oils must enable new engine technology to meet new emissions standards around the globe and will require some fundamental shifts in formulation and additive chemistry to meet the challenge. In the case of EALs, complete reformulations will be required for marketers seeking to seize the opportunity that market represents; many of the most commonly used additives in traditional fluids simply do not meet the environmental standards required of EALs.


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