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Business Management

Growing Motorcycle Market Provides Significant New Opportunities for Lubricant Manufacturers

Oil and lubricant marketers are excited by the opportunities that are increasingly available to them in the rapidly expanding global motorcycle market.

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Focusing in on the key commuter bike markets in the Asia Pacific and Latin American regions, the growth of the motorcycle market is generally attributable to rising incomes and demand for convenient and affordable personal transportation. Scooters are a particularly strong growth subsegment of the overall global motorcycle market, mainly driven by ease of operation and accessibility. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has also made two-wheeled vehicles more popular. As social distancing becomes the new normal for the foreseeable future, the demand for socially distanced personal transportation is likely to increase.

Similarly, the working-from-home trend and a move away from regular commuting on packed public transportation also means motorcycles and scooters offer a more convenient, efficient and cost-effective option to meet less frequent commuting requirements. Capitalizing on these opportunities, however, means considering several key market drivers, which include the following:


Specific motorcycle lubricants

In many ways, scooters and motorcycles are like any other consumer-focused passenger vehicle. Consumers expect high performance combined with long-term reliability, and using the proper lubricants is crucial to meeting both of these needs.

The lubricant formulating approach to deliver high performance and long-term reliability for two-wheeled vehicles differs significantly from that of passenger cars, due to some fundamental differences in the oil performance requirements.

In a typical passenger car, the engine oil only has to function in the engine. In motorcycles, a single oil is used not only for the engine, but also for the clutch and gears. In a passenger car, a separate, dedicated transmission oil and a dry manual clutch or dedicated automatic transmission fluid is used, for example. This means that the bike oil needs to deliver some special additional performance to meet the needs of these functional components.


In addition, bikes run hotter due to higher power density engines and at significantly higher operating speeds than a passenger car, plus they primarily use oil to cool the engine, rather than a dedicated coolant. Given these relatively severe operating conditions and the additional performance requirements, dedicated motorcycle oils need to be formulated specifically to provide the right balance of performance to ensure hardware protection, durability and performance.

Unless the bike owner is paying close attention, however, traditional passenger car oils can easily be put into bikes by mistake instead of the right dedicated motorcycle oils. This can lead to performance problems like clutch slip and wear due to higher levels of friction modifiers, gear pitting due to lack of the right extreme pressure protection components and higher levels of engine deposits due to the passenger car oils not being formulated to handle the severity of the higher power density motorcycle engine applications. Using the right dedicated technology motorcycle oils, with balanced friction modifiers, gear boosters and special detergents, prevents those issues from surfacing. As a result, users can expect better hardware protection and higher performance, as well as a more consistent overall riding experience.


Motorcycle hardware keeps getting more sophisticated

As emissions standards grow increasingly stricter throughout the world, motorcycle engines are being designed to keep pace with the new regional emissions norms. For example, in 2020 the aligned Euro 5 and India Bharat Stage VI specifications set new standards for vehicles throughout Europe and India. In order to meet the new emissions restrictions, bike manufacturers have implemented a number of necessary hardware changes. The new emissions norms also bring in new in-use conformity requirements, which means engines will need to meet the lower-emissions performance throughout their useful lives, bringing in a new requirement for exhaust after-treatment durability. It is important that the latest generation of bike oils is formulated with after-treatment compatible technology to ensure catalyst durability, as well as meeting all of the application-specific performance needs of the latest hardware.


One of the major changes in motorcycle hardware is a move away from carburetor technology to electronically controlled port fuel injection (PFI) technology. This improves the fueling precision, which in turn improves engine efficiency and control of engine-out emissions, to make more effective use of the three-way exhaust emissions catalyst. When the hardware changes so significantly, so too do the performance needs. To meet these needs, the lubricant technologies must be similarly enhanced to provide the right balance of performance.

For example, to keep pistons clean and provide the necessary oxidative and thermal stability to cope with the latest high power density hardware requires the use of improved detergents, dispersants, anti-oxidants and in some cases better quality base oils and viscosity modifier polymers to shift the performance balance and meet the needs of the latest bikes. All this while at the same time maximizing the durability of three-way catalysts through the use of lower phosphorus levels overall and lower phosphorus volatility anti-wear systems.


These changes are no longer on the distant horizon; the new lower-emissions hardware is on the roads right now. As the bike hardware technology has been forced to upgrade, so has the lubricant as a key enabling technology.

With such recent changes to the performance needs of the latest bikes and so many changes to the way we formulate the right oils for the latest applications, it may seem premature to be looking to the next upgrades; however, it is worth considering what comes next.

It is really no surprise that the focus on future upgrades is likely to be further reductions in emissions, and particularly improvements in fuel efficiency. Many of the vast number of commuters in the growth markets expend a significant proportion of their disposable income on fuel, so delivering the most efficient bikes has become a key marketing battleground for the motorcycle manufacturers, plus the sustainability benefits of more efficient transport are clear to all.


Taking the evolution of passenger car technology as an example, the move to more stringent emissions norms has resulted in more efficient exhaust after-treatment catalyst technology, and in general to a migration toward lower-viscosity grade oils and higher levels of friction modification to reduce internal friction losses and deliver enhanced fuel economy performance, while still delivering higher levels of engine protection and hardware durability.

The current industry standard specification for motorcycle oils—JASO T 903: 2016 includes limits on oil viscometrics, clutch friction and phosphorus content that may in turn be limiting with regard to the next generation of oils. It can be anticipated that there may be changes in future versions of the specification to enable some of these key formulating levers to be pulled. This will enable further tailoring of the oils to become not just a lubricating oil but a key enabling technology for the low-emissions hardware of the future. It can be further envisioned that performance testing for gear protection and fuel efficiency are likely to feature in any new specification upgrades to ensure the right balance of performance is met to deliver the right performance, hardware and catalyst durability protection for tomorrow’s bikes.

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