DETROIT -- The Top Tier program, which has certified detergency levels in gasoline for more than a dozen years, is set to have one of its most active years yet.
In 2004, eight automakers—GM, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat-Chrysler, Volkswagen, Audi and BMW—created the Top Tier gasoline standard in 2004 for detergent content. The purpose was to ensure fuel quality and vehicle performance as engine technology advanced, at a time when detergent levels in gasoline varied widely.
To date, 34 companies representing 72,700 gas stations participate in the Top Tier gasoline-certification program, or about 49% of the market, Rebecca Monroe, fuel-trademark program lead of General Motors (GM), Detroit, told CSP Fuels. The licensed fuel brands include everyone from major oils such as BP, Exxon and Shell to large independents such as QuikTrip and Kwik Trip.
Marathon and Sunoco are the two most recent brands to achieve Top Tier certification, with more to come. The Top Tier program works well because of how it was designed, said Monroe, combining engine needs with fuel detergency performance. “It’s a good marriage as far as fuel quality.”
This year will see some big changes in the Top Tier program, including the addition of a new fuel, retailer requirements and markets. Here are five points to note on Top Tier fuel. ...
1. Any size retailer can be certified
While many Top Tier licensed brands have hundreds of locations—think Chevron or Costco—any size retailer could participate in the program, said Monroe. For one, many terminals already use Top Tier-approved additives.
“Retailers feel like they have to develop an additive package or perform testing,” she said. “That’s not true—the additive company does the testing. The fuel marketer just has to buy the right fuel from the terminal.
“It’s really within reach for all fuel marketers,” said Monroe.
2. There are costs to participate
Fuel marketers must pay an annual licensing fee to participate in the Top Tier program, based on their number of locations. Monroe describes the cost as “pretty affordable for anyone with a few stations to thousands.”
In 2016, the Top Tier program began to require that participating retailers display the Top Tier logo at their sites. The requirement coincides with the addition of Top Tier-certified fuel recommendations in vehicle owners’ manuals.
“It’s going to be in 17 million new vehicle owners’ manuals in the United States this calendar year, so we want people to recognize the logo in the owner’s manual and also at the station,” said Monroe. Most fuel marketers have displayed the signage; those that haven’t have quickly put it up after a reminder, she said.
3. Top Tier-certified fuel is demonstrably different
In January 2017, AAA released a study that compared engine deposits left by gasoline that used the Top Tier detergency treat rate to fuel that followed the EPA’s lower detergency treat rate. It found that engines using gasoline with a Top Tier treat rate of detergents had an average of 19 times fewer intake-valve deposits than those operating on EPA-treat-rate gasoline.
Monroe described the AAA study as “a really big story” for the Top Tier program, and one that helped prove it was not just marketing, signage and additional costs but instead ensured a better fuel that helped clean engines.
4. A new diesel program is coming
Coming this summer is a Top Tier certification program for diesel. As Shailesh Lopes, GM senior fuel projects engineer, explained to CSP Fuels, it was designed to prevent performance issues in diesel engines, especially as stricter emissions requirements meet newer diesel varieties, such as biodiesel.
To be certified, a fuel marketer must demonstrate its diesel meets five components relating to detergency, stability and lubricity, as well as two “housekeeping requirements.” One requires the use of a 10-micron filter at the dispenser to limit contaminants. The other requires water controls, either through the use of a water-absorbing medium or a water-control system for the underground storage tank (UST).
Unlike the Top Tier gasoline certification program, which requires the participation of all of a brand’s sites, the diesel program would allow fuel marketers to certify locations of their choice, reflecting the difficulty some may have in meeting the certification standards based on the availability of diesel additives in some markets.
As of press time, a few companies are close to achieving approval from the Top Tier program for their additive packages. At least a couple of fuel marketers are poised to be Top Tier diesel certified once these additive packages are approved. The first should be announced this summer.
Similar to the Top Tier gasoline-certification program, the diesel program has a licensing fee based on the number of stations. The fee helps support administrative and auditing costs, said Monroe.
“We audit them to make sure they are … putting in the right additives, making sure there is not water in the fuel, and making sure they have the right filtration,” she said.
5. Top Tier is going international
Top Tier certification is also making its international debut this year. At the end of May, Chevron was certified as a Top Tier fuel marketer for its Texaco with Techron regular- and premium-grade fuels at more than 350 Texaco sites in Central America.
“We’re looking in many other countries as well,” said Monroe. “They see the benefit of OEM-developed standard for engine cleanliness.”