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Castrol 125 years on: Q&A with Castrol Europe’s CEO, Vesna Di Tommaso

How do you assess Castrol’s prospects in the automotive sector, given intensifying global competition in the lubricants market and the shift away from combustion engines?

“In recent years, we’ve seen increased levels of global competition in the oils and lubricants market – both in Europe as well as in major growth markets such as China and India. Despite this, motorists in Europe continue to use high-quality lubricants and brands that they trust to deliver superior performance, protection, and durability.

“With household incomes squeezed during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, some drivers are keeping their current vehicles for longer, instead of incurring the cost of a replacement. In these instances, vehicle owners rely on high-quality products to protect their investment. With over 120 years of developing advanced oils and lubricants, and as a trusted global supplier to many reputed vehicle manufacturers, Castrol is a name they can have confidence in.  

“The world of mobility is changing fast, and we are too. As society continues with the shift towards electrification, we’ve been busy developing and formulating cutting-edge fluids for new-energy vehicles, notably with a new range of Castrol ON products. These include EV Transmission Fluids that deliver enhanced protection of the drivetrain while aiding efficiency, EV Thermal Fluids that help keep batteries cooler to enable ultra-fast charging even in extreme conditions, and EV Greases that play a vital role in maintaining optimum efficiency while extending the life of vehicle components.

“By continuing to invest in the development of lubricants for ICE vehicles, which will continue to make up a significant proportion of the European car parc for several more years, as well as fluids designed specifically for EVs, I’m confident that Castrol’s prospects remain bright long into the future.

Is it your aspiration for Castrol to achieve leadership in the development and sale of EV fluids, and if so, how will you achieve and maintain it?

“Castrol has long been a favoured supplier in the global automotive lubricants sector, and we want to build on that as the industry pivots towards electrification. We are very confident we have the technical capabilities, global reach, brand strength and long-standing relationships with OEMs and suppliers necessary to establish and maintain a leadership position in a fast-growing EV fluids market.

“Our relationship with OEMs is key – it’s one of the reasons that two out of three of the world’s major electric car manufacturers choose Castrol ON for their factory fill*.

“One of the ways I see Castrol staying ahead and continuing its leadership in the EV era is by working closely with global car manufacturers. This is something we’ve been doing successfully from our early days and will be pivotal to our future. It’s the cars and technologies of the next five to ten years that are currently in development, and our expertise in fluid advancement is being utilised by OEMs in the development of their next generation EVs.

“One example of this cooperation is our work with BMW on a UK Government-backed project to develop ultra-fast charging cells and battery packs for EVs and fuel cell hybrid electric vehicles (FCHEVs). By utilising Castrol ON EV Thermal Fluids to target and cool individual battery cells, we’re working to increase the thermal management surface area to enable faster charging. We’re aiming to deliver an 80% charge in just twelve minutes, making EVs an even more viable alternative for those still considering switching to electric vehicles. 

“Pushing the boundaries in motorsport is another great way in which we can gain learnings that can help us develop lubricants that deliver in extreme conditions. As the official EV fluids partner to the Jaguar TCS Racing team in Formula E, we’re working to co-engineer EV fluids and lubricants to improve performance and deliver more sustainable solutions that support the future of electric vehicle efficiency.

“Recently Jaguar TCS Racing won the Formula E Climate Champion Award for its pioneering use of more circular transmission fluids from Castrol in their all-electric race cars at the 2023 Monaco E-Prix. The work with the team is a milestone in Castrol’s journey towards circularity, as it not only recognises the potential for more circular lubricants, but it also demonstrates that we can help develop increasingly sustainable fluids that can be used in demanding conditions without compromising on performance and efficiency.

Aside from selling EV fluids, how is Castrol supporting OEMs with the transition to electrified mobility?

“Castrol is investing up to £50 million (around $60 million) in a new, state-of-the-art EV battery testing centre and analytical laboratory at Castrol’s global and Europe headquarters in Pangbourne, UK. Planned to open by the end of 2024, the new facilities will support the technology, engineering and science that underpins our product development efforts. The site already undertakes research and development of fuels, lubricants, and EV fluids, and we’re aiming for it to become one of the leading hubs for fluid technologies and engineering in Europe.

“The new facilities will help advance the development of fluid technologies and engineering for hybrid and fully battery electric vehicles, helping to facilitate the key tipping points for mainstream adoption of EVs.

“Additionally, we intend to use the new facilities to continue our work with car manufacturers and suppliers to co-engineer future battery technology and associated thermal management fluids. It will also look to develop future technologies required to help to enable the ultra-fast charging which underpins our partner bp pulse’s growth strategy.   

Castrol recently refreshed its brand with a new logo and product labelling. What was the reason for this?

“The industry is changing fast and so is Castrol; we want to give a sense of that with our brand refresh. We carried out a comprehensive brand strategy process, which included extensive research, analysis, and input from stakeholders and customers before carrying out the visual changes. Along with an updated logo which features a more modern, dynamic, and vibrant design featuring Castrol’s iconic red, green and white colours, the new brand identity brings refreshed labelling across our core product range.

“Our brand refresh is aimed at better reflecting Castrol’s unique positioning in the market and the opportunities we see in meeting the changing needs of customers. This goes far beyond being a lubricant supplier; it also includes our service offer to workshops and the work we do with OEMs and within other industries. For instance, our immersion cooling fluids are increasingly being used by the IT sector for cooling of data centres. Our simplified labelling has been created to make it easier for customers to view viscosities and other key pieces of information.

“Although I‘ve only recently joined Castrol from my earlier roles in bp, I’ve quickly developed a sense of how much our Castrol brand identity means to people across our global business. Evolving such an iconic brand identity is a real challenge, but I’m confident our new approach will help us engage with a multitude of external audiences in new ways.

How is Castrol supporting a more sustainable future? 

“We set out our sustainability strategy, PATH360, in 2021. Our focus is to reduce carbon, save waste, and improve people’s lives around the world. Our overall aim is to become net zero by 2050 or sooner.

“In September 2023, we unveiled new designs for our range of top-up lubricant bottles in Europe, which uses up to 20% less plastic by weight in our popular five-litre bottle compared to our previous packaging. The new bottles were introduced in several of our key international markets, including China and India in 2019, which meant we used 4,000 tonnes less plastic when compared to the previous small bottle designs**. In Europe, the new bottles are expected to save around 1,000 tonnes of plastic per annum compared to the previous small bottle designs and aggregated across the full bottle range**. 

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing independent and franchised workshops over the next five years, and what is Castrol doing to help them?

“There’s been a lot of media coverage about how the fundamental shift from ICE vehicles to EVs is changing how OEMs operate, but independent and franchised workshops are also having to adapt for this new age of mobility.

“Vehicle technicians have to learn new skills and processes to maintain electric vehicles in a safe and effective manner. That means businesses have to grapple with new training requirements, as well as invest in new workshop technologies. It’s a lot to manage, especially during a time when inflationary pressures are increasing.

“With ICE vehicles, engines are becoming more advanced and in many cases are adopting new levels of hybridisation, which has meant that the number of specialised oil viscosities have increased.

“To assist workshops through this transition, we launched our Technical Support Service earlier this year to ensure workshop personnel have a dedicated team of specialists on hand to provide technical guidance and recommendations on suitable lubricants. This new service will be open to current and prospective Castrol customers, independent and franchised workshops, distributors, retailers, and Castrol Branded Workshops across the UK.

“We’ve also introduced the Castrol Learning Campus, a digital platform that has a range of modules suitable for staff in different departments, from service advisers to workshop technicians. It’s been designed to sharpen skills, enable staff to connect with their peers, elevate career prospects, and enhance business performance. It’s interactive and users can learn at their own pace, at a time and a place that’s convenient for them. 

What are Castrol’s next steps in accelerating the growth of the Castrol SERVICE network across Europe?

“We’re keen for Castrol to develop as a service-centric business; not one that relies solely on selling products. The Castrol SERVICE network is a prime example of this strategy in action and has been successful in key markets across Europe. We set out to become the market leader in branded workshops. Over 6,000 Castrol SERVICE workshops are now in operation across Europe, and it’s a number that’s steadily growing.

“Participating workshops in certain countries receive a comprehensive range of benefits including a limited Castrol engine warranty when Castrol oil is used in customers’ vehicles, branded technician clothing, along with marketing support and training, all designed to facilitate an increase in and retention of customers. 

“We’re continuing to improve the Castrol SERVICE workshop offering to accelerate the scheme’s growth. We introduced the ability for workshops to obtain independent certification by TÜV Rheinland, a global leader in third-party testing and certification. This certification scheme has been designed to help businesses optimise operational standards and further build customer trust. 

What are you enjoying most about your new role?

“It’s been a real joy to meet the talented and passionate people across our global business who care deeply about Castrol and the strategy we are pursuing to help the industry adapt to an unprecedented pace of change. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and it gives me great confidence that Castrol can remain at the heart of developments across the mobility sector.

“I’ve also been learning about some truly inspirational new projects, involving technical innovations that will deliver benefits far beyond the automotive sector. I can’t imagine a more exciting time to join the business.

“Castrol benefits from an extremely strong brand image thanks to its rich heritage and continued focus on product development and innovation. While the Castrol brand is perceived extremely favourably by industry and customers alike, I look forward to working with the team to bolster this even further.”  

* Based on LMCA data for top 20 selling OEMs (total new car sales) in 2019

**Calculated based on the equivalent volume and mix of previous small bottles sold in 2022

About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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