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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 VOLUME 7 ISSUE 18  

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Ford Unveils New Transmission Fluid
By Lisa Tocci

Ford Motor Co. last week gave the lubricants industry its first look at a new automatic transmission fluid specification. Mercon LV is intended to be a fill-for-life fluid for the automaker's emerging transmission technologies, explained Ford Mercon Committee Chairman Chintan Ved. The automaker also has streamlined its Mercon V licensing program in ways that will greatly cut costs for transmission fluid branders and re-branders.
 
Ved unveiled the new trademarked fluid and described the licensing program changes during the SAE World Congress in Detroit, at the April 17 meeting of SAE Technical Committee 3 on Transmission Fluids and Gear Oils. He reminded listeners that Ford's older Mercon spec has been replaced with Mercon V, and any remaining Mercon licenses will expire by June 30. Current and older models that recommend Mercon should be serviced with licensed Mercon V products now.
 
Mercon LV is something else -- a forward-looking fluid designed to deliver key performance benefits for 2008 models and beyond, he said. It is intended to coexist with Mercon V going forward, and the two are not interchangeable.
 
Mercon LV, Ved explained last week in an interview with Lube Report, offers stable frictional performance, potential fuel economy benefits, improved anti-shudder performance and anti-foaming/aeration performance, and greater oxidation stability in step-type transmissions.
 
Licensing for Mercon LV -- the LV stands for "low viscosity," not 55 -- begins July 1, and the fluid will be used as factory fill for 2008 models such as the Ford Focus when they roll off the assembly line this year. Ford wants it ready for the service-fill market at the same time.
 
"Drain intervals across the board with the new fluid will be 150,000 miles for passenger cars and trucks, in normal service," Ved said. Ford says Mercon LV has strong potential for increasing the severe-duty service change intervals, as well, which it will announce at a later date.
 
Only one additive package, made by Afton Chemical, has been approved for Mercon LV, Ved pointed out. It took some three years to validate the additive package for Ford's factory fill, and only then was it considered for service fill as well. The Afton package includes a detergent-inhibitor package and a shear-stable viscosity index improver package. Depending on the base stock used, treat levels are expected to be in the range of 11 to 14 percent.
 
To meet the performance demanded by Mercon LV, most products will need to be formulated with Group III oils, Ved added. "Based on Mercon LV's viscosity, shear stability and antioxidancy requirements, use of higher-end Group IIs, Group III and PAOs will be the best scenario." He said there seems to be adequate supply of Group IIIs to meet the volume needs, as the LV market develops; also, there will be less turnover of the fluid, since the transmission fill intervals will be so much longer.
 
Mercon LV joins Mercon V and Mercon SP as the only current Mercon products for conventionally shifted automatic transmissions. (There is also Mercon C, designed for CVTs).
 
"The goal with LV was to create a more robust fluid, even beyond that of Mercon V," Ved said. "We aren't yet replacing SP, which is used in our conventionally shifted five-speed and six-speed transmissions, but there is a significant amount of testing ongoing to replace SP with Mercon LV."
 
Due to viscosity differences, LV is not intended as a substitute for Mercon V. "Newer transmission technologies are being developed with low-viscosity fluid," he added. "It's fill-for-life, and has more stable friction properties, and will maintain the shift feel throughout the fluid's life. It also will maintain its viscosity with less than 5 percent viscosity change over the life of the fluid."
 
The major additive companies all hope to gain the automakers' factory-fill business, and Laurie Strasser, marketing manager at Afton Chemical in Richmond, Va., said her company was gratified that its package got the nod from Ford. "We're blessed with an excellent research team, who put forth solid technology, considerable persistence and hard work," she said.
 
The key, as with all emerging technologies, was to provide measurable improvements in multiple areas. "Every OEM is looking to boost fuel economy by optimizing the transfer of power along the complete drivetrain," she said. "Another key demand is for greater friction stability. We've seen this emphasized with General Motors' Dexron VI fluid, with the JASO specification in Japan, and now Ford's Mercon LV. The OEMs want consistent friction performance -- shift feel -- throughout the life of the product, and for the product to have a longer life as well."
 
Automakers around the globe have launched low-viscosity fluids, Strasser stated, but each is unique, and not always interchangeable the way Ford's Mercon and GM's Dexron III were. "GM's Dexron VI and Toyota's low-viscosity WS and Ford's Mercon LV are not currently compatible, because the design criteria and frictional requirements are different. The arena of transmission fluids is not converging," she told Lube Report. "These are different fluids with different design characteristics.
 
"We in North America have been used to having 60 percent of the market satisfied with a single transmission fluid, Dexron/Mercon. That isn't so any more. Now there's a new paradigm, with each of the OEMs having unique, stand-along fluids."
 
Strasser noted that the base stock needed for the new LV specification is mostly going to be a Group III, with its better thermal and oxidative properties. Most Group III base stock suppliers will be able to meet the specification, she added. "Ford is a global company and will want to be assured of supply for its factories and dealers worldwide."
 
Even as it adds this new specification, Ford is trying to wean users away from using its old Mercon product, and Ved reiterated that Mercon V is the proper fluid now for all 2007 and earlier models. No new Mercon licenses have been issued since last July, and Ford hopes to see the product fade from the marketplace. That includes issuing service bulletins to all dealers reminding them to use Mercon V only.
 
"We're tightening the specs and are taking steps -- such as field monitoring -- to make sure that what fluid goes into the box is identical or as nearly identical as possible to what we use as factory fill, mostly Mercon V," Ved said. "Transmission fluid is the blood of the transmission. New systems always are developed with the fluid in mind, with how they'll interact. ATF compatibility with various components, like elastomers, composites, friction materials, gears, bearings, etc., is very critical to transmission performance, and hence we don't want the wrong fluid going in Ford transmissions."
 
In speaking to the SAE Technical Committee 3 meeting, Ved also had good news for lubricant marketers regarding Mercon V. Three additive packages -- one each from Afton Chemical, Infineum and Lubrizol -- have been approved for Mercon V.
 
The test requirement for Mercon V licensing and renewals also has been optimized, resulting in program costs being reduced for the applicants. Mu-V characterization (anti-shudder) and the GM cycling test (oxidation) have been dropped, as Ford believes those performance parameters are adequately demonstrated in other tests.
 
New licensees also can avoid performing two friction-durability tests for Mercon V when they begin initial production, and those who renew will not have to repeat certain annual tests for antifoam, elastomer compatibility, wear and oxidation properties.
 
A few new bench test parameters, most of them already part of the aluminum beaker oxidation test, have been added to the Mercon V regime, but overall these changes mean that original formulator costs have been reduced by $40,000, and reblend test programs will also avoid some $20,000 in cost.
 
Ved's Mercon Committee has approval authority for all its fluids; licensing paperwork and administration are handled through its program coordinator, Southwest Research Institute. For information, e-mail merconprogramcoordinator@swri.org.

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George Gill, Editor. Lube Report (ISSN 1547-3392), Lubes'n'Greases Magazine and Lubricants Industry Sourcebook are published by LNG Publishing Co., Inc., 6105-G Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, Virginia 22044 USA. Phone: (703) 536-0800. Fax: (703) 536-0803. Website: www.LNGpublishing.com. Email: info@LNGpublishing.com. For sponsor information contact Gloria Steinberg Briskin at (800) 474-8654 or (703) 536-7676 or gloria@LNGpublishing.com.
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