Asked for the 30,000-foot corporate view, Stellar/Lubegard President Justin Archer said that like nearly all company leaders, he’s looking to take advantage of growth potential and to become more efficient at what his company does. “We continue to add to the product portfolio as we find products for both the Stellar and the Lubegard lines that are needed by our customers. I think that when we bought the Lubegard operation we took a highly successful company and paired it with our willingness to invest in all the things that were going to lead to more products and that next level of success. We hope to put 20 more of those plaques up and wrap them around the walls of this room,” he said pointing to a wall displaying the company’s many trademarks and patents.
“Obviously the transmission aftermarket continues as our bread and butter, our concentration. Our largest Lubegard growth area has been the parts retailers like Pep Boys, Auto Zone, O’Reilly and others like them. We’ve also found a market for many of the fluids and supplements/protectants in the traditional aftermarket and have added many familiar jobbers/distributors to our network. Beyond those two segments, we’ve put a lot of effort into developing a marketplace for Lubegard in the quick lube segment. I think we still have plenty of opportunities, as we haven’t yet achieved the share of market I think we can achieve.
“Lubegard red, black, and platinum bottles have remained relevant even as the installer industry has become more dependent on whole fluids as opposed to supplements & additives. The line contains a whole ATF to address those preferences while, at the same time, the Platinum product is the flagship, technologically most advanced, and our dominant seller in the transmission market. It has desirable characteristics from both the red and the black bottles in a single protectant.
“GM has a recent service bulletin that recognizes a shudder problem in six- and eight-speed transmissions. Our lab is researching this specific shudder issue and testing to determine which of the Lubegard products is the most effective solution. So far, the Platinum and HFM (black bottle) are showing promising results, but we will also be looking into our COMPLETE ATF as a whole fluid solution.”
Marketing Manager Mark Roach continued, “In the pipeline of products that Blaine [Rhodes] and his team are looking to develop is a second whole fluid for transmissions that require an ultra-low viscosity ATF. The demand for that product is just beginning to take off and we’ll be hoping to start testing formulations before the end of the year, with a possibility of adding it to our lineup.”
“Hands down, the number one auto parts store product is the Instant Shudder Fixx,” Archer pointed out. “That’s a product that when you look online at the forums and such it’s mentioned a lot. That’s a free marketing program that we get. It’s a seven or eight-dollar investment that drastically extends the life of the vehicle. It’s often the Shudder Fixx that gets our product lines in the door with the automotive mass retailers.
“Assembly Goos are also very popular with people who rebuild transmissions. One of the things we’re working on is working on the applications for that product beyond transmission building. It’s used widely by engine rebuilders but we’re also getting interest and requests from guys working on boats, guns, all kinds of additional applications that call for that type of product.
“Lubegard has true strength with our formulation chemists and our ongoing research capability. We have the opportunity to go almost anywhere. Beyond our transmission industry birthplace, we have applied the knowledge and capabilities to other marketplaces far distant from transmissions.
“Lubegard is a brand that people in the industry have been aware of and it’s becoming more and more recognizable because of our retail presence. The assembly Goos are an increasing product line for us as they are gaining more and more customers both in automotive applications and beyond.
We have, for instance, developed a pool & spa pump lubricant that is growing and is very popular in that market. Once you pull the motor in a spa, the seals are essentially the same as transmission O-rings and we have found a very desirable and successful product for the people who service those.”
The Lubegard team is bringing back, by popular demand they said, the Seal-E-Zee product. They explained that Seal-E-Zee has a very devoted following that have been asking for the return of that product. It is being reintroduced early this summer, regulations permitting.
Archer and Roach said that keeping the Lubegard line relevant means formulating products to meet late-model technologies. “We’ve had DCT fluids for four or five years now. That was a market that started with a big buzz and everyone thought it was going to become a larger presence than it actually did in domestic automobiles,” said Archer.
“Our DCT bottle is good for every wet-clutch DCT application except the Nissan GT-R application (GR6) that requires a different, special DCT fluid,” Roach explained. “Dual Clutch is very big in Mexico; we sell a lot of the product there. Interestingly the two best selling products we have for the Mexican marketplace are the CVT and DCT fluids followed by Shudder Fixx. I think that’s tied to the Volkswagen assembly plant in Monterey which results in a lot of those VW vehicles with those transmissions being driven by people in that area.”
“Domestically,” Archer said, “it looks like the CVT is going to be much more popular than the DCT for the foreseeable future. We’ve had a whole fluid for CVTs for some years now. The newly released ‘CVT Recharge & Protect’ yellow bottle, is added to new or used OEM CVT fluid to reduce noise and wear in much the same way as the red or platinum bottles are used in step transmissions.”
Research chemist Blaine Rhodes explained, “In one of our most recent studies, we’ve found that our Lubegard ATF Protectants do not change the viscosity when added as directed. This was proven with our newest piece of equipment; the Falex Multi Specimen Tester. ILI owns and uses a number of industry-standard measuring devices to evaluate properties of the lubricants it produces. Most of these devices perform tests that comply with ASTM standards so that the results are internally reproducible and comparable with results of other laboratories.
“In these machines one condition is varied while all others are held constant. This greatly enhances the consistency of a standardized test. Such consistency is necessary for maintaining the quality of existing product.
“The recently-installed Falex Multi Specimen Tester (MST) is a major laboratory improvement allowing dynamic control of all parameters: temperature, time, load, contact speed, composition, and configuration. Such control is very important to the development process—solving new problems with new products. The conditions under which a problem occurs can be simulated on the MST and formulations tested to find the most economical solution. The MST also has the advantage of computer data acquisition including monitoring of torque, coefficient of friction, and wear. These are the most important measurements in lubricant development.”
Roach continued to explain the advantages the company sees from CVT Recharge saying, “We found that using CVT Recharge & Protect greatly enhanced the wear resistance of Nissan and Honda CVT fluids.
“Used factory-fill samples of those two fluids were taken from vehicles at opposite ends of the wear spectrum. One fluid sample had about 28,000 miles on it and the other something like 224,000 miles. The CVT recharge showed significant improvement in wear reduction. Further testing showed that the additive will increase that anti-wear capability in new fluids even. A lot of guys would think that the new fluid was good for perhaps 70,000 miles and then CVT Recharge & Protect should be added. But the industry standard tests we conducted actually show reduction in wear when the protectant is added to brand new fluid. The reduction in wear was reduced by two-thirds in one instance.”
“Partnering with TransTec will certainly help us identify additional customers for our power steering fluid and other power steering products. As we look to find out more about what the power steering repair world looks like, who better could we partner with than TransTec?“
Archer said the company is very excited about the capabilities found with CVT Recharge. “In Seattle recently, Blaine is showing me how the new Falex testing machinery works and he takes a used oil that came from a Murano and put it through the wear test. The wear test is supposed to run an hour, but the used fluid failed after three minutes of the simulation. Then, taking the same oil, he adds the recommended amount of Recharge & Protect formulation and repeats the full hour of testing. With CVT Recharge & Protect, we were not only able to run the test for 60 minutes but also able to improve the wear performance of the fluid dramatically.”
“Rounding out, with an eye to the quick lube marketplace, we internally package an extensive line of transmission filter kits. And, we have a partnership ongoing with TransTec in which we sell their power steering kits in the western U.S. They’re putting a very sophisticated piece of equipment into our Garden Grove warehouse and distribution facility. It’s not much different than the Falex system that we have in Seattle for transmission applications. It will allow us to perform as a service center where we can actually test power steering components.
Archer said that the company’s Stellar product line is serving both parts distributors and production rebuilding facilities with a full line of aftermarket new transmission hard parts.
“Bushings are a very big part of the Stellar transmission parts line. We are one of only a few distributors for Dura Bond and the only distributor for the Mahle Clevite line. While many of the Stellar hard parts we offer, like Hayden coolers, is something we are strictly distributing, we are very much involved in design and development input with bushing kits.
“We are sending our people into their customers with two catalogs in hand. If we end up with a Lubegard customer, that’s great; if we end up with a Stellar customer, that’s great too. But, if we end up with both lines going to that customer it’s a homerun for us and something that will be of great value to that customer as well.
“We’ve done a good job bringing our product lines into the transmission industry in that almost all the distributors carry both Lubegard and Stellar lines of product. In our traditional markets we’re selling Lubegard and still have the potential to sell parts to those customers. It’s tough to get a new line with as many part numbers as a transmission line includes. They aren’t specialists. They carry carburetors and brakes and all manner of components. We look to make their life easy by recognizing they can’t carry 25,000 transmission part numbers but they should carry parts for popular units like the 4L80-E and 6L80-E.
“So, Lubegard gets us in to see the right people in the building and we have a Stellar product line that can easily produce additional profit for that traditional customer if he puts the right parts on his shelf.”
Concluding, Roach said that there are some areas of concentration that help make the products more accessible and more successful. “Digital cataloging and application data have helped us, I think. It’s no longer a case where we have to get the information out to someone who’s interested in a product. With the online catalog there’s a complete description of capabilities and features right there with ACES & PIES that the distribution network needs to confidently order Lubegard products and put them into stores or warehouses.
“Basically, we look to become more efficient. Doing all the things that make a company valuable to its customers. We want to reduce the time it takes to go from order to delivery of products and things like that. And, in a similar fashion we try to decrease the time it takes to put a product in the marketplace. The investment in test equipment and application data is how we can accelerate these processes.”