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Lubricating electric vehicles

Electric vehicles need lubricants that can meet the specific requirements of their powertrains. By launching a dedicated range, Total is again pioneering and cementing its ambition to be a leader in electric mobility.

Electric cars reshuffle the deck in the automotive market

Passenger car electrification is here to stay. By the 2040s-2050s, the propulsion systems — from all-electric to hybrid — used by vehicles on the road worldwide will be totally different.

Four key factors are driving the change:

  • Cheaper batteries, whose price is expected to drop another 67 percent by 2030[1], cutting the cost of a battery pack kilowatt-hour to $100 from $209 at the end of 2017.
  • An increasing number of policy decisions to banish internal combustion engines (ICE) from cities, especially in China, for public health reasons.
  • Automakers, all of which are planning to halt technological development of internal combustion engines.
  • Electric cars that already offer the full range of comfort, convenience, enjoyment and modularity, while alleviating anxiety about running out of power thanks to more efficient batteries.

Total Rolled Out Its Electric Vehicle Lubricant Ranges at the CTI Symposium in Berlin

But the future transportation equation still has many unknown variables. No one knows whether established carmakers will be better positioned than OEMs, newcomers like Tesla or even service providers like Uber. Or whether China, which never succeeded in wresting leadership in internal combustion engines, will be the global number one in EVs. Its current proactive resolve suggests that it might.

The EV shift will ripple across every aspect of the ecosystem — fuel, lubricants, equipment — and create market opportunities as well. Anticipation and innovation are already the recognized keys, as exemplified by Total, which recently introduced its first lubricant range for electric vehicles.

Lubricants designed for EVs

Although users aren't always aware of their role, lubricants fulfill a crucial function by making vehicles safer and more efficient, starting with lowering fuel consumption. Total Lubrifiants, a global industry leader, offers innovative, efficient, more environmentally responsible products and services for marine, automotive, trucking and industrial applications.

Lubricating an internal combustion engine is very different from the same job for an EV motor. The former needs both oil to minimize engine friction and transmission fluid. These products are different. Engine oils in particular degrade over their lifetime as combustion gases contaminate them, meaning they have to be replaced regularly.

Electric vehicles experience significant fluctuations in power flows and high motor speeds of up to 15,000 revolutions a minute. They can require several fluids: oil for the gear reducer, which is the EV's transmission, and an oil specifically for the electric motor if the automaker is trying to improve cooling. Thermal management fluids for the battery and power electronics will be coming in the near future to support fast charging and strong acceleration in order to increase range and ensure safety.

"These fluids, which are exposed to high voltages, have very specific properties," says François Bénard, prospective & innovation manager at Total Lubrifiants. "They're subjected to high temperatures and must protect key components, such as coils, from corrosion while preventing short circuits. The vehicle's lifetime and safety depend on it."

At the CTI Symposium in Berlin early in December 2018, Total presented two lubricant ranges developed for electric vehicles: Total Quartz EV Fluid for passenger cars and Total Rubia EV Fluid for industrial and commercial vehicles and buses (watch the video).

Betting on the future

"We're pioneers in this market," notes François Bénard. "Total is the first to launch a complete range for all electric vehicle components and applications." It's a key strategic choice. "Not all automakers have chosen their technologies yet, especially for cooling, and there's still uncertainty about the direction the EV fleet will ultimately head." That's why neither Total nor carmakers nor OEMs provide volume forecasts. But volumes will be lower than for internal combustion engines, because EV fluids won't need to be changed regularly: there's no fuel combustion to degrade the oils the way it does in regular gasoline and diesel engines.

Total insists nonetheless that it is aiming to become a world leader in electric mobility, a direct outgrowth of its climate strategy. The new lubricant ranges for carmakers come on top of the solutions already offered, which include a dense network of charging stations at Total service stations, ultimately including 1,000 HPC[2] stations across 300 retail outlets in Western Europe; the 10,000 public charging stations in France, managed by G2mobility; and private sector charging solutions, including Direct Energie and Total Spring's green mobility solutions in France and Lampiris's in Belgium.

"We're betting on the future but we're ready now, because we think it's a segment we have to be in!" says François Bénard in conclusion.

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[1] According to Bloomberg NEF

[2] High Power Charging – 150 kW

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