What Castrol's Nexcel Technology Means for the Fast Lube Industry

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On October 8, 2015, Castrol launched a new technology they claimed would reinvent the oil change as we know it. The Nexcel system is a fully contained oil cell — that looks a lot like a battery — housing the engine’s oil and oil filter. Castrol claims an entire oil change can be performed in 90 seconds.

As with all great innovations, word about the technology spread fast. You may have seen the USA Today article written by Nathan Bomey titled “Oil Change Costs May be Headed for Steep Drop.” Here are some excerpts from that article:

“But — like other services that Americans used to pay regularly for, such as milk delivery — paying for oil changes soon could become a thing of the past.”

“The cleaner and quicker system, called Nexcel, must be integrated into vehicle engines at the design stage. That means it won’t hit mainstream cars for another five years — about the length of time between major model changes for many automakers.”

“But at 90 seconds, the cost of an oil change may become negligible if the Castrol system is widely adopted. Or the expense may even disappear altogether for vehicle owners who find it easier and cleaner to do it themselves.”

Before you panic, there’s still a little more to uncover about the technology and how it will affect the fast oil change and automotive maintenance industry.

National Oil & Lube News had the chance to speak with Oliver Taylor, the Nexcel chief engineer, who shared some interesting insights about the project — which is quite revolutionary in terms of servicing vehicles. So, here’s some key things you need to know:

1. Availability

Nexcel must be manufactured as part of an engine and vehicle design and cannot be retrofitted into existing vehicles.

The technology is currently only in 24 cars in the entire world. It will come as standard equipment in the new 2016 Aston Martin Vulcan track-only supercar, each carrying a price tag of about $2.3 million.

Taylor said Castrol chose to work with Aston Martin because they were a technology partner who could deploy Nexcel very quickly.

“We’ve been working on it for about three years,” Taylor said. “This is the first time it is publicly available. In the next three to five years we expect to see it available on race cars but not really in mass retail.”

Taylor said they are currently talking to other OEMs and hope to have mass retail vehicles equipped with Nexcel by 2020.

2. Oil Cell Design

As Taylor explained, the oil cell integrates both the engine oil and filter — and to a layman, it may be confused for a battery. The Nexcel has oil level and quality sensors in it and a microchip in the oil cell that communicates with the vehicle, allowing for a precise flow of oil every time, something Castrol calls precision lubrication. The oil flow has been tested up to 600 liters per minute — 10-20 times greater than seen in a conventional passenger car engine.

“With precision lubrication, we’ve developed new tailored lubricants to match specific engines with specific applications,” Taylor said.

3. Exchange & Recycling

According to Taylor, two of the compelling benefits of the Nexcel system are its ease of service and environmental impact.

What tools will technicians need to replace Nexcel? Basically, their two hands.

“There are no tools required,” Taylor said. “You don’t need any hand tools, and that allows you to provide a very quick service.”

Castrol estimates the time of service to replace a Nexcel around 90 seconds.

Once a Nexcel is replaced, it will be set aside to be taken back to the plant and recycled. Operators will not handle any actual oil or filters.

“The oil cells will be delivered to workshops (auto service centers) assembled, so all the choice and filling of the oil will be done at the plant,” Taylor said.

The exterior casing of the Nexcel can be reused up to five times. The used oil filter and used oil will be removed from spent Nexcels to be recycled, rerefined and used again. The internal workings will be cleaned, and a fresh oil filter and fresh oil will be installed.

“All of the processing and manufacturing takes place back at the Nexcel manufacturing plant,” Taylor said. “Collecting used oil and rerefining it back into base oil allows that oil to be reused. It’s important to the environmental credibility of the technology, and it allows us to make sure we use materials in the oil cell efficiently.”

4. The Other Benefits

There are several compelling benefits to the Nexcel technology, and two of them have already been mentioned — ease of service and environmental impact. The third benefit to the Nexcel system is CO2 reduction.

“Our testing has shown we can generate a reduction in CO2 and that comes from two areas,” Taylor said. “That comes because we can help the engines warm up more quickly. We do that by being precise with the amount of oil we introduce into the engine. It allows motor oil to be tailored to that particular engine and, therefore, reduce CO2 or conversely increase fuel efficiency.”

What does the technology mean for the U.S. auto service industry?

After conversations with Taylor and other industry professionals, it seems like Nexcel technology would probably be more accepted by — and is probably more geared toward — the European auto service market.

“Nexcel brings fast and clean oil changes,” Taylor said. “It gives the manufacturer added flexibility of a new servicing option for customer retention. We think about the way this works in a workshop; ordinarily one of the key pressures on the workshop is the run time on the vehicle. They are constrained on the amount of room they have and how quickly they can get the vehicles free. This technology fits really well in that environment. The oil service, which takes up to 20 minutes for a conventional oil change, is ordinarily done on [a lift]. It can actually be done off [a lift], saving run time.”

Speed of service is definitely a concern for the United States auto service industry, but with the abundance of fast lubes — a concept rarely seen in Europe — it may not speed up the full-service oil change as much as anticipated. Even if the oil change itself only takes 90 seconds, a multi-point inspection and requested add-on services still add minutes to bay times.

Taylor said Castrol is hoping to take the technology to other lubricants companies and license it, so Nexcel is available to many different lubricant manufacturers. Which leads us to the next issue — inventory.

Is it reasonable to think fast lube facilities would want to — or even have the room to — stock the inventory required to service purely Nexcel vehicles. Think about it: a Nexcel device for each oil weight, each oil manufacturer, each oil quantity and each oil filter and the many different combinations that are possible. Plus, make sure you have enough stock to service 50-80 cars a day without knowing exactly which types of vehicles will come rolling through your bays. There might not be enough room in current quick lubes to make this set up feasible. It’d be great if OEMs and lubricant manufacturers could start to standardize things, but realistically what are the chances that will happen?

“Today, we’re seeing the unchecked expansion of proprietary lubricants,” said John Denholm, Environmental Compliance and Purchasing officer at Oil Changer, Inc., when asked about Nexcel technology. “Is it realistic to believe OEMs will agree on a universal integrated oil/filtration cell when we have more than 140 transmission specifications to contend with?”

While OEMs agreeing on a standardized oil cell is one obstacle to overcome, space under the hood is another.

“It is a technical challenge for the OEM getting [Nexcel] packaged into the bonnet of the car,” Taylor said. “Under the bonnet of the modern car, there is almost no space available. So for them having to make space for the Nexcel system, there has to be some pretty compelling benefits.”

Denholm agreed.

“Those of us who have spent time working on modern vehicles often wonder what the engineers were thinking when deciding on a location for oil filters,” Denholm said. “Many engines seem to have the oil filter located as an afterthought. Instead of hiding oil sumps and filters in less-accessible places, Nexcels would compete for space in already cramped engine compartments where electronics are typically placed to keep them away from the elements.”

At the end of the day, consumers and oil companies are not making the decisions about engine design, so this may be a tough hill to climb.

However, what would things look like if the dice fall right and Nexcel is widely accepted and brought to mass market all across North America in 2020 and moving forward?

One challenge operators would need to deal with, at least temporarily, is stocking two sets of inventory — one to cover Nexcel systems and one to cover traditional engines.

Let’s do the math. As of 2015, there are currently 257.9 million vehicles in the United States, with 16.5 million cars being sold each year and 11.5 million cars being scrapped each year. That means it would take nearly 30 years to scrap the old-school fleet and convert everyone in the United States over to a Nexcel system. When would this happen? In approximately 2050.

While mass media may cast the perception oil change costs are headed for a steep drop and auto service facilities will have to quickly adapt, it looks like the industry may have a few decades to do so. In the meantime, we can watch revolutionary oil change technology at work in some of the world’s supercars and wait to see if it will roll through our bays eventually.

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