E85 vehicles: Where are they?

E85 vehicles: Where are they?

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl, President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Our heavy reliance on oil to power our transportation system leaves us vulnerable to disruptions in supply and manipulation of prices.

With global oil supplies peaking, increased prices and supply disruption will be increasingly common events by 2010. Every president since Jimmy Carter has expressed a willingness to use military force to protect oil supplies. The most recent Iraq war expenditures will exceed $75 billion.

In the meantime, the cost of ethanol is stable and likely to fall.

Considering world developments, ethanol improvements, and the huge agricultural base of Illinois, we’d think that customers would be lining up to get E85 Vehicles.

We chatted with the fleet manager of a large Rockford dealership. He had recently attended a workshop on flex fuel vehicles and was bubbling with enthusiasm for them. He stressed the fact that ethanol is a clean fuel: “Just look at the exhaust!” It also has high octane, resulting in a two miles per gallon improvement, canceling out the higher cost. E85 vehicles are work vehicles, like Suburbans, Tahoes, and pickups, with slightly larger engines. Will a customer have to pay more for an E85? “Not necessarily, no.”

Despite his enthusiasm, E85 vehicles are not yet mainstream. We contacted dealers throughout the The Rock River Times’ circulation area. A common switchboard response was: “What? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” A common sales response was: “You probably know more about that than we do!” While some of the dealers were familiar with the term “flexible fuel” vehicles, none had heard the term “E85.”

One of the dealers who claims not to have them told us if a customer asked for one, he would have to contact GM and place a special order.

Another was surprised at our question: “I’ve never had a customer ask for one yet.” But, yes, they do sell flexible fuel vehicles: GMs and Chryslers. He wasn’t sure if flex fuel vehicles cost more.

Another put us on hold; after five minutes, we were asked to call back later.

A Chrysler dealer believes they have vans that are E85 vehicles. “But, to be honest with you, I don’t know if the E85s are even available in this area. And I think they need a different type of oil, but I would have to check.”

A Ford dealer asked what the term E85 meant and recognized it as a flexible fuel vehicle. He explained that no one has ever asked for one, but when some customers notice the badge identifying the car as a flexible fuel vehicle, they ask what that means. He personally feels that we should use more ethanol: “It’s good for farmers and the country.” They carry Taurus, Sable, and Ranger. They all have a 3-liter, V6 engine, which he considered very reliable.

If E85s are going to become popular, both the ethanol and auto industries will have to support a major advertising campaign to create awareness of their presence and the advantages to customers and the country.

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