By Mark Rees
Vice President, Strategy, Research and New Business Development

If the news tells us anything for certain, it’s this: Electrification is much more than a flavor-of-the-month. Automakers are pouring an increasing amount of resources into electrification strategies, and consumers’ response is ramping up as a rapid uptake is seen in the market place. For instance, in 2018, global plug-in electric vehicle sales (PEV)—including battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrids (PHEV)—have reached the two-million-vehicle sales threshold. Consider it this way: It took five years for the industry to reach its first million. In 2018, it took just six months.

As electrified and electric vehicles continue to proliferate, it’s important to distinguish between the two, along with the implications each technology has for all parts of the drivetrain—and for car owners. Compare something like the ubiquitous Toyota Prius, an electrified hybrid (HEV) that incorporates battery power supplemental to a traditional fuel-powered engine, to a Tesla, a fully electric car than runs purely on battery power.

Many experts expect that HEV, PHEV cars will become more common than full-electric, battery powered electric vehicles (BEVs) in at least the near term, but much of this evolution in car ownership will be driven by shifting regulatory policy, the cost of new technology, and of course, consumer preference. Regardless, it’s important for drivers to know the difference, what to look for in caring for their future vehicles, and what kind of regular maintenance they’ll need to be paying attention to.

China provides one of the most important examples of how the global landscape is changing. The country currently leads the way in EV sales, and the government is pursuing an aggressive long-term plan to ramp up the local EV sector to become a world leader in the technology. In 2017, the Chinese government released its EV-centric, long-term development plan for the automotive sector. By 2020, the country hopes to see PEV sales of 2 million, and by 2025, wants to ensure that Chinese-made PEV brands will contribute 20% of the total annual PC/LCV fleet. Importantly, the Chinese regulatory environment for EVs continues to change rapidly, so these goals could be amended in the near future.

Europe is another example. Consider these stats from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association and as reported by Lubes’n’Greases: “Across the EU bloc, 431,504 hybrids and 216,566 electric vehicles joined the car parc,” amongst which PEVs represented 63% of all electric sales, with 408,000 units. In Germany, the continent’s largest car market, “registrations of hybrids and electric vehicles grew by 54.8% and 39%, respectively in 2017.

Meanwhile, the plug-in share of the European market has reached 3.5 % in December 2018, the highest ever for a single month, and the weighted average for the full year was 2.3%, according to EV-Volumes. In 2019, Europe is expected to continue its higher adoption rate, helped by a myriad of new entrant models.

In the USA, Ford announced recently its plans to bring one of its most iconic brands of pickups into the electric age with battery-powered F-Series vehicles in the near future, and in April the company inked a deal with the EV startup Rivian to accelerate its commitment to a successful electrification strategy. In comments to the Detroit News, Ford President of Global Markets Jim Farley said it’s part of Ford’s strategy to “future-proof” what is already the best-selling model of car or truck in the United States. While the company mentioned no timetable in the initial announcement, this is a big deal, and it will be interesting to track the demand for electrified F-150s in the coming years.

In eventually electrifying the F-Series, Ford notes both battery-electric and hybrid strategies. That’s in line with broader engine technology trends, electrified or not—the future of engine technology lies in diversity. Automakers across the globe are pursuing new and various unique technologies to push efficiency to the next level. We’re expecting new engine cycles, combustion engines may become far more complex, and hybrid technology ranging from high voltage to low voltage with complementary combustion engines will become increasingly common.

Electric and electrified vehicles have fundamentally different demands when it comes to things like oil changes—what’s the conventional wisdom there? It might be too early to say, but we do know that the selection of high-performing lubricants and fluids will become especially critical as electrification continues to evolve.

For example, the electrical conductivity of oil and fluids in hybrid vehicles is a major consideration. As Lubrizol’s Dr. Michael Gahagan told Lubes’n’Greases: “We are seeing more focus now on characterizing the electrical and heat transfer properties of lubricating oils. It is possible that a new range of lubricating fluids may be used in the drivetrain to enable these advancements in vehicle electrification.” Just as well, hybrid vehicles still rely in part on fuel-powered engine technology—which is also becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated, with evolving requirements of lubricating technology. Meanwhile, full electric engines don’t rely on motor oil as we’ve traditionally known it at all, but will nevertheless have new, demanding challenges on greases and other fluids.

Our view: Staying educated on the needs of evolving technology is critical to long-lasting reliability in future vehicles. Electrification is coming, and everyone should be proactive in preparing for a new generation of technology.

Whether it’s increasing hybridization or a greater push for true electric vehicles, at Lubrizol, we’re continuously investigating the needs of the evolving engine. Because while automakers like Ford have announced their intention to pursue aggressive electrification, it will take great work, research and investment to make it a reality. And it’s reliable, real-world performance that counts the most.

For more information on electrification, see the related articles below or contact your Lubrizol representative.

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