Shell Lubricants has enjoyed a number of successes with component makers since setting up a specialist auto components unit in 2004, a senior executive told just-auto.

Speaking during a media visit to Ferrari's luxury sports car-making and Formula One racing facilities in Maranello, Italy, Jurgen Roehler, Shell's global sector manager for the automotive component industry, said his company achieved best results when involved in the development of new components from the earliest stage possible.

As examples, he cited a case where a new component failed initially because the lubricant maker was not asked to get involved until after initial design work had begun. After a rework incorporating Shell's suggestions, the final producion item was a success. He also cited the development of specific lubrication fluids for ZF's stepped six-speed automatic transmission and the development of a new fluid for a transfer case used in BMW, Land Rover and Volkswagen SUV models.

Roehler noted that the average new vehicle contains around 5kg of greases in components from door hinges to glovebox lid catches to suspension joints. Products Shell supplies to the parts industry include fuel efficient, extended life, synthetic and mineral oils and greases for axles and transaxles, fuel-efficient manual transmission fluids, fluids specifically made for conventional hydraulic and continuously-variable transmissions, lubricants used in the current generation of twin clutch automatic transmissions (plus work on extended lubricant life for future generations), IVT (Torotrak) infinitely variable transmission traction fluids, plus the greases used in steering systems, constant velocity and universal joints and interior motors and drives.

Acknowledging that there is no shortage of fuel and lubricant suppliers worldwide, Roehler claimed that Shell has an advantage as a global company that can consistently supply the same product from multiple production plants almost anywhere in the world a component maker or vehicle manufacturer wants it, and also has the flexibility of being able to supply small or vast quantities as required.

"We have a complete lubricants portfolio from factory-fill to what we call non-production products - for plant maintenance, metal working products - and consistent product quality world-wide," he said.

"I think that's some kind of differentiator between [us and] local, or let's say, semi-global companies which don't have the capabilities to deliver their products and services on a global basis, and not only globally but with the same consistency world-wide. I think that's one of our strengths here," Roehler added.

"We see [ourselves] as slightly different from some of our big competitors in lubricants - we are also a specialist company. We deliver the regular production products but are also in specialities like metalworking, greases and other products."

Shell began working with the sportscar maker's legendary founder, Enzo Ferrari, in the 1920s and became more involved when the great man started making his own racing cars in 1947, according to a Ferrari spokesman.

Shell ceased its racing activities after the 1973 oil crisis but re-started in 1996. As well as supplying all the fuel, oil and lubricants the F1 team needs, it dedicates around 40 scientists to Ferrari-specific research while three technicians and a mobile analysis laboratory travel with the race team from one grand prix to the next. Over a season, Shell delivers 200,000 litres of its V-Power Formula One fuel plus 40,000kg of blended lubricants and makes almost 200 deliveries to 22 different race circuits in 17 countries. During a pit stop, fuel goes into a car at the rate of 12 litres/sec, 25 times faster than a road car fuel pump.

In the luxury sportscar factory, Shell supplies all initial fill fluids and its pumps, filler nozzles and logo are prominent alongside the two final assembly lines.

Roehler said Shell supplies 13 of what it has identified as the "20 key automotive component makers" and spends $US30m a year on R&D specific to the sector - at six centres around the globe - as well as dedicating 150 staff worldwide to its needs.

The lubricants maker has closely studied the components industry - using Global Insight and others'data - and determined, among other things, that global auto assembly will continue to grow, driven by rises in Asia/Pacific, and especially in China and India; that nine key countries will account for 70% of auto production by 2013 with 20% growth expected by then; that China will grow 67% in the next six years, overtaking US and Japan auto output by 2010; that India will more than double; that India, China, Russia, Thailand and Indonesia are the fastest growing producers; that 45% of all light vehicles will be built in Asia-Pacific by 2013; and that 35% of growth will come from GM, Toyota and other 'western' makers with 20% from Chinese OEMs.

Roehler said cost cutting, spurred by recent consolidation in the components industry, especially in North America, was Shell's mantra.

"The value spend in autos is shifting to suppliers," he said, adding that it was 77% today vs 25% in the 1980s.

"Outsourcing to suppliers is increasing and the value added by the car maker will fall from EUR4,000 a unit today to EUR2,670 by 2015."

Shell has positioned itself as a 'cost down' partner providing 'value-added services' including oil analysis, reliable delivery quantity and scheduling, training, best practice advice and help with dealing with waste oils and lubricants.

This, along with a simplified, virtually 'one point of contact' relationship between component-making customer and fuel/lubricant supplier position Shell well for a future of fast-developing emerging markets, changes in mature markets, and supply chain operational changes, Roehler said.

Graeme Roberts