By Craig Paterson
Vice President, Product Management

Lacking a crystal ball, it’s hard to predict exactly what the future holds for the future of engine technology. Where will automakers continue to innovate? What routes will they take to achieve ever-increasing efficiency goals?

We don’t know for sure, but there is one thing we can say with some certainty: Diversity in engine technology will become the norm. We’ll likely see an increasing variety of new and different engine hardware come into the marketplace, as OEMs diverge in the routes they’ll take to achieve new efficiency and emissions reduction.

Let’s explore just one option that we’ll likely see become increasingly popular over the next 10-15 years: hybrid vehicles, and the diversity we’re likely to see within just that space. Full electrification might grab headlines (see Tesla’s recent introduction of an electric semi truck), but it’s far more likely we’ll sooner and more commonly see the increasing proliferation of hybrids.

Hybrids aren’t new, of course. For example, the Toyota Prius, which may be the most common and well-known hybrid passenger car today, was in fact manufactured way back in 1997. And while the serviceability of these cars tends to be a common question, from most perspectives, maintenance isn’t all that much different from a standard internal combustion engine. Take it from Edmunds: “Most hybrid cars do not require any additional regular maintenance on the hybrid-specific components,” the site notes. “The gasoline engine in a hybrid vehicle requires the same maintenance that it would if it were the only power source driving the vehicle. That means regular tune-ups and oil changes depending on the vehicle and driving conditions.”

And like with any new (and future) vehicle, the right choice of oil is critical for optimized durability, protection and performance. Because as hybrids advance, so too will the requirements of engine oils needed to service them.

That’s where paths may begin to diverge. Different automakers have been investing in different hybrid technology, and it’s likely we’ll see numerous types of hybridization in the marketplace. Plug-in hybrid technology, for instance, operates like this: an electric component will power the vehicle up to a certain range—let’s say 50 miles. If the driver is traveling for a longer distance than 50 miles—let’s say 55 miles—an internal combustion component will kick in after mile 50 to complete the remainder of the journey. For that final five miles, the internal combustion engine may not operate at a very high temperature.

By contrast, range-extender hybrid technology operates differently, with the internal combustion component kicking in to recharge the electric component as it nears the end of its range. This might sound like only a slight difference in operation, but it’s not—and it’s critical. The internal combustion component works very hard, very rapidly, and at a very high temperature to recharge the electrical component.

The difference between a lower-temperature engine environment and a high-temperature one is major when it comes to the job of the engine oil. Low temperatures and high temperatures demand different performance criteria. Engine oil formulations of the future must account for these key differences—and it’s critical that shops, fleets and oil servicers know what to look for.

Our view: Engine technology is changing, and that means engine oil is changing. Ongoing education is critical to providing expert service to everyday drivers. Just as today’s T/GDI engines require the right formulations, so too will tomorrow’s technology.

For more information on the changing engine oil market, contact your Lubrizol representative.

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