Photo by iboy_daniel. Licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.
Michael's email read as follows:
We thought the answer would be no, the vehicle is not eligible, because CARS only counts the fuel economy number when using gasoline. The CARS FAQ page explains the qualifications this way:
Go to http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/sbs.htm and click on the model year of your vehicle, the make, and then the model. Under the words "ESTIMATED NEW EPA MPG" in the red banner, there is a red number with the word "COMBINED" under it. That is the new combined city/highway fuel economy for your vehicle. You may then enter the make, model, and model year of a new vehicle you may want to buy and see its combined MPG for comparison.
When you follow the instructions, you see an image like the one above. For most vehicles, there is only one number that gives the gasoline rating. If that's under 18 mpg, then you're good to go. But, in Michael's particular instance, there are two ratings, one that would qualify and one that wouldn't.
We called National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the organization responsible for implementing CARS, to get to the bottom of the story. The NHTSA representative we spoke to told us - repeatedly - that, if you claim that you've been using ethanol in a trade-in car that has an E85 rating that qualifies for the rebate, then, yes, you can get the multi-thousand-dollar voucher towards the purchase of a new car.
The bill authorizing CARS is H.R. 2346, which President Obama signed in late June, and the text describing the program can be found here. In this legislation, there is no mention of ethanol or a particular fuel type. Instead, it reads:
Here's what the label looks like:
The EPA's regulations on how to come up with this number stipulate that it must "indicate the fuel economy of the automobile when operated on gasoline or diesel fuel." Therefore, we're pretty sure that CARS will only look at the gasoline number, and our friend Michael is out of luck if he was hoping to trade in his Taurus. Things could change, of course. The EPA told us that no one really knows yet what the rules are, because they are still being drafted. According to the Department of Transportation, the full rules of the program will be made public in late July. Stay tuned.