Motul’s presence in Japan is highlighted by the fact that there is a Japanese R&D facility in the Kawasaki area just outside Tokyo specifically tasked with catering to the needs of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The man who runs it all is Katsuya Arai. We sat down with him to learn more about the synergy between the Motul and the Japanese OEMs.
Katsuya, what’s it like to collaborate with the biggest Japanese manufacturers?
Racing activity is the source of the technology, so we work closely with the Japanese OEMs to provide support. The OEMs are always looking to gain a technological edge over their competitors. For instance, imagine that a Yamaha or a Suzuki can achieve 2 extra horsepower just because of the lubricant. That would be a significant difference. With one OEM, we managed to improve the top speed by 0.2 second. That gives them a major edge purely due to the lubricant. This is the major part of our activity here in the Japanese R&D facility.
Do they put pressure on you and your colleagues?
They do sometimes. In the end it’s a competition, so that’s normal. And on top of that, we also like to see the machines with our logo take a place on the podium – and preferably the middle spot (laughs). So, for an engineer, it’s a good form of pressure. This way, we are really part of the competition, making a difference.
Do you visit many events?
Just like Joseph Charlot, my French colleague, I try to visit quite a few events. I usually visit most of the events at the beginning of the season, to see how engine performance has evolved during the winter break. I’ll also go to both private and general test sessions. That’s where I talk to the engineers and look at how we can evolve and improve our product.
What’s the collaboration with the OEMs like? How is the dynamic between you?
It’s always a little sensitive, because there has to be a lot of trust between both parties. Evolution means admitting to defects or areas for improvement. For an engineer, it’s not always easy to admit that to an external partner, but it’s an inevitable part of the improvement process. It means there has to be blind trust between both parties, almost as if we were part of the OEM ourselves. If you can achieve that, you can make enormous improvements.
This might be an obvious question, but how and what can you improve in an oil? Is it a constant evolution?
We improve our oil every year. It might be through our own tests or it might be because of pressure from an OEM. And looking at a cycle of about five years, the improvements are even more significant, and our product may increase the horsepower of an engine quite significantly. We develop on different levels. We might change the viscosity, or we might look into the additives required. We look at our own supplier and see what additive is available or make a demand of our own.
Is it safe to say that the innovation comes through a synergy between the demands of the OEMs and the requirements for Motul’s suppliers, and that this place is right at the heart of that synergy?
Yes, absolutely. We are a kind of intermediary between all those parties. That’s a good way of putting it.
The future looks bright for hybrids and EVs. What is the role of Motul in that future?
At this point, we have already launched a line of hybrid-focused products which are extremely important for us. They are the first steppingstone in this story. EVs are a whole different story but one that we are deeply involved in. Look at the Mugen MTEK project, for instance. I can’t go into specifics, but this is an electric bike that uses our oil as a coolant. So, we’re definitely developing new products and technologies every day.