A bipartisan group of senators has drafted a new energy bill that includes a mandate that all vehicles sold in the United States would have to be flex-fuel capable by 2020. During the GM BioFuels summit last Friday in Detroit, one of the subjects that came up was the use of flex-fuel vs. dedicated ethanol vehicles. When Brazil first started moving to ethanol in the 1970s, manufacturers built cars that only ran on ethanol. Due some volatility in fuel prices these proved to be unpopular. It was only when everyone started to make flex-fuel vehicles so that drivers could select the fuel that was most affordable that such cars and use ethanol really took off. Now more than 90 percent of new cars in Brazil are FFVs.

However, some in the industry are opposed to the plan. Barbara Nocera of Mazda is concerned that government shouldn't mandate which technologies win out. The validity of this argument is dependent on how how the law is written. If it only mandates flex fuel capability without specifying particular fuels, this really shouldn't be a problem. Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers president Dave McCurdy has said some engines are not easily adaptable to flex fuel capability. Again this seems a dubious argument at least for gasoline engines. There shouldn't be any modern electronically controlled engines that couldn't be flex-fuel capable.

GM spokesman Alan Adler told ABG that "In general, GM opposes mandates, including this one." The real problem is not building the FFVs, but rather a lack of filling stations. Brazil has mandated that filling stations must install ethanol pumps, but less than one percent of U.S. stations offer E85. Adler said that most new GM programs "are going to offer flex-fuel capability but some, such as diesel programs, will not." However, if the fuel isn't available to buy it won't make any difference.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]


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