The Chinese diesel market is set to grow at a robust pace over the next 5 to 7 seven years as production of diesel vehicles increases and the introduction of China V specifications takes center stage. The implementation of China V regulations is key to the consumption of diesel, and in turn, lubricity improvers (LI) and cold flow (CF) additives. Lubricity improvers are estimated to grow at a strong CAGR of 11.9% between 2016 and 2022 while cold flow additives, which are predominantly used in winter diesel, will grow at a lower CAGR of 2.8%. Excess kerosene availability in China will also be a challenge for the growth of cold flow additives, as it is a cheap alternative. Local players in China currently dominate the supply of LI and CF additives to Sinopec and Petrochina.

The local players that dominate the market have excellent relationships with both Sinopec and Petrochina. These relationships are long-standing ones which gives them an edge over new entrants. New companies trying to tap opportunities in the LI and CF market in China are advised to partner with the domestic players, as it will enable them to get a ‘ foot in the door’ with the state-owned enterprises. Owing to these long-standing relationships, the technical specifications set by the refineries are published in such a way that most of these domestic players will qualify. International additive companies have superior technical specifications as compared to domestic players, but these improved specifications are often perceived as premium or expensive.

The procurement process for LI and CF is different between Sinopec and Petrochina. While Sinopec is predominantly a consumer of LI, Petrochina is a large consumer of CF, as Petrochina produces larger quantities of winter-grade diesel due to its locations in colder regions across China. While the procurement process for Sinopec is done completely at the headquarter level, the process for the procurement of CF is left to individual Petrochina refineries. This difference in the tender processes has made domestic additive manufacturers increase their sales and marketing staff in order to have a constant presence at the location of various refineries.

There are however interesting ways by which international LI and CF players can enter the China market and be successful. One of them is to partner with a strong domestic additive manufacturer. The other option is to provide value-added services such as refinery economics exercises, training workshops for refinery personnel on the advantages of using CF over kerosene as well as joint R&D exercises. These services will go a long way in building relationships with refineries, which is the cornerstone of success in the diesel additive market in China.