• May 10, 2011
We've talked before about President Obama's plan to greenify the federal fleet, generally thought of as a good thing. In leading by example, Obama hopes to show the American public that flex-fuel vehicles – and other gas-misers like hybrids and plug-ins – can substantially reduce our dependence on gasoline. However, Automotive News (sub. req.) has posted an interesting article showing that even the best of intentions don't guarantee success.
In 2009, despite increased purchases of flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles, the U.S. government fleet consumed three percent more gasoline than it did in the previous year. While it may sound paradoxical that E85-capable vehicles actually end up using more gasoline, there's nothing mysterious going on here. For example, last year, 55 percent of the government's E85-capable vehicles ran on gasoline simply because there were no stations offering E85 where they filled up. With only one percent of filling stations offering E85, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to fill the tank with this high-ethanol blend.

Then there's a larger problem. "All the E85 vehicles are bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles," Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Automotive News. "And they're going to be filled up with gasoline most of the time. Therefore they're going to use more gasoline than more fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles."
We're not sure if we agree that all E85 vehicles are bigger, but certainly the high-volume players in the E85 market are trucks and sedans. There is hope for the federal fleet, however, as the U.S. Agriculture Department has recently started a program that aims for 10,000 E85 pumps in the next five years, which would more than quadruple the number of existing stations.

[Source: Automotive News – sub. req.| Image: diaper – C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 21 Comments
      carney373
      • 2 Hours Ago
      I've already patiently and extensively explained to you why focusing on efficiency is pointless. Reducing gasoline consumption (such as by increasing efficiency) is not an end in itself. Instead, it is a mere means to ends such as a cleaner environment, an economy safer from oil shocks, and a world less troubled by well-funded extremist and terrorist regimes and groups. If those ends can be better achieved by using an alternative fuel, even a higher volume of that fuel per given distance, than the rational course is to use that alternative fuel, rather than mindlessly fetishize efficiency and foolishly preserve oil's monopoly on transportation fuel. As for whether flex fuel vehicles actually use E85 or not, we can be certain that NON flex fuel vehicles use E85 even less. Therefore encouraging, or even mandating, that gasoline cars from now on be flex fuel rather than gasoline only is obvious common sense. Increasing efficiency is futile, because even when overall efficiency rises dramatically, fuel use does not fall, but rises anyway, due to economic and population growth, and human nature. On top of that even if we did use less fuel in our more efficient vehicles, OPEC can just squeeze production down tighter to restrict the supply, and spike the price, making us pay just as much as before for less fuel as we used to pay for more fuel, making the sacrifice and effort totally pointless. And the extremists and terrorists get just as much fuel as before. It's NOT about how much fuel you use. It's WHAT fuel. And the key to changing the fuel we use is to make alternative fuel compatibility an actual physical possibility in the cars we drive. Once that's done, if the alternative compatible cars aren't being filled up with alt-fuel for whatever reason, we can look into additional steps like further taxing gasoline or subsidizing alternatives, but making the cars alt-compatibility is the OBVIOUS first and indispensable step.
      guyverfanboy
      • 2 Hours Ago
      The only time I have ever seen an e-85 pump was up in Roseville, CA where my mother-in-law lives, 135 miles away from me. Despite seeing flex fuel vehicles on the road, I never seen E-85 pumps, go figure.
        dellrio
        • 2 Hours Ago
        @guyverfanboy
        Its funny, Where I live it is rare to find a station without an E-85 pump, some stations have 2. In addition to that it is nice knowing that the E-85 was produced within 50 miles of all these pumps both grown and processed. That is much less energy required to transport the fuel across the country from the coast. It does not make sense everywhere, but in the Midwest it certainly does.
        carney373
        • 2 Hours Ago
        @guyverfanboy
        Again, there are over 2,300 E85 pumps today, up from only 50 in 2001. If you want E85 to become more widely available, there's no better way than to make E85 compatibility a standard feature in cars like seat belts, as called for in the proposed Open Fuel Standards Act, and in the "Energy Victory" plan outlined by Dr. Robert Zubrin in his book and website.
      Allch Chcar
      • 2 Hours Ago
      Jonas Dalidd, you've found the biggest problem with E85 acceptance. The lack of fuel efficient Flexfuels. The argument is that bigger less efficient vehicles using E85 burn less oil than a fuel efficient gasoline vehicle. Plus it's only really taking hold on Domestic cars. It should have been mandated years ago...just my humble opinion.
      rgee01
      • 2 Hours Ago
      Not a surprise. Ethanol is one of the stupidest energy decision in recent history. It's the sort of thing that happens when Big Government and Big Corn get together to force yet another bad product on the American people.
        carney373
        • 2 Hours Ago
        @rgee01
        Totally wrong. Given the huge slack capacity in our ag sector, we'd be foolish NOT to use some of it to produce cleaner burning biofuels. Your whining about "Big Corn" is ludicrous. The total government intervention on behalf of ethanol, including tax breaks, is less than $10 billion annually. Meanwhile, OPEC has raised the price of oil from $10 a barrel in 1999 to $100 a barrel today (an economy-crashing $140 in 2008) - a "tax" of HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS a year on us alone. You complain about "big government" and "forcing" things? Do you have a clue how tyrannical the petro-regimes you fund at the pump are? How all-intrusive and totalitarian Saudi Arabia is, and how hostile to the freedoms we hold dear? Your whining about our modest efforts to break free of the pro-terrorist oil tyrannies shows a total lack of overall perspective. It's like howling about "tyranny" and "big government" during World War 2 because Washington is rationing gasoline and banning manufacture of civilian cars - totally ignoring the broader context that this is in service of a death struggle against a REAL tyranny. Wake up, Einstein.
      carney373
      • 2 Hours Ago
      The higher the marketshare E85 capable vehicles get, the more likely those vehicles will be using E85. Gas station owners are more likely to switch a pump to E85 if a higher percentage of cars on the road can use it. Thus, rather than being an excuse to abandon E85 capability, any under-use of that capability should instead be seen as a spur to expand it. The best way to do that is simply to make flex fuel a required standard feature in new cars from now on. This is a practical suggestion because the burden of such a mandate is so light - around $100 per new car at the factory. Throw in another $30 per new car for compatibility with other alcohols, most notably ethanol, and you transform alcohol fuel from being an exotic to being a standard choice at most gas stations, like diesel is today. Even without flex fuel being standard, and with our current system of clumsy, ineffective, and indirect encouragements, E85 has made strides. Only fifty stations sold E85 in 2001; today more than 2,300 do so.
        lne937s
        • 2 Hours Ago
        @carney373
        I think you should say "massive, multi-tiered, inefficient subsidies that are counter-productive to reducing gasoline consumption". Remember that federal subsidy and associated state subsidies that can go to mixed blend fuel pumps (allowing stations to subsidize gas sales) is the primary reason for E85 pumps. For example, In Kansas, government subsidies cover 90% of the cost of new gasoline pumps that can also offer ethanol blends: http://www.ksgrains.com/ethanol/rege85credits.html With the ~$2 Billion in added cost to consumers for E85 capability, we would be better to tax them ~$150 per vehicle and spend on something that actually reduces gasoline consumption, like scrappage plans or EV incentives.
          lne937s
          • 2 Hours Ago
          @lne937s
          Dellrio- Eliminate all subsidies on oil and E85 (including corn subsidies, infrastructure, CAFE credits, blending subsidies to oil companies, infrastructure subsidies, etc.). Save tax dollars by eliminating direct and indirect subsidies to both of those environmentally destructive fuel sources. Then add tax dollars by raising capital gains taxes on commodity speculators while driving down prices to be more in line with supply and demand.
          carney373
          • 2 Hours Ago
          @lne937s
          It's not about using less gasoline. It's about switching from gasoline to another form of motive power. And while I'm friendly to EVs, alcohol fuel sidesteps all the barriers to EV adoption: higher up-front vehicle cost, the need to have a home garage (preferably with a $2,000 (not counting labor) 240v recharger), limited range, slow recharge times, and few public recharge stations. Yes, I know many of these problems are over-hyped, or can be or are mitigated, or are not real problems for daily commuters - the point is, an alcohol fuel compatible car doesn't have to overcome all that to sell and use alt-fuel.
          dellrio
          • 2 Hours Ago
          @lne937s
          "With the ~$2 Billion in added cost to consumers for E85 capability" How about removing the 10 Billion in Direct subsidies to Oil companies in 2011 - you know the Oil companies that don't need subsidies because of record profits... What about removing 20-30 billion in Indirect subsidies to oil companies (you know like troops protecting the oil lines, tax incentives, etc. ) If the true cost of gasoline was paid at the pump that would do more to reduce Gasoline consumption than anything else. Would you rather pay $4.00 a gallon for ethanol, or $8.00 a gallon for gasoline? Me, I will keep filling up my prius and 55mpg motorcycle till the Volt is available with E-85.
      • 2 Hours Ago
      The problem has nothing to do with ethanol. It has everything to do with the fact that car makers will not even OFFER flex fuel capabilities (even at a + cost option) on smaller vehicles. Please offer Flex Fuel Cruzes, Focuses, ecoMalibus and Fusion Hybrids.
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Hours Ago
        They only add the flex fuel capability to offset the horrible mileage of bigger vehicles. The flex fuel loophole allows them continue to produce horribly inefficient vehicles without penalties. Their smaller vehicles meet current(weak, industry written) efficiency standards. They don't pay for the gas once you buy the car so they don't give a F$@k.
        carney373
        • 2 Hours Ago
        You're right. But instead of saying "please" we should say "you MUST". We should just mandate it as a standard feature from now on like seat belts. This is not at all burdensome; it would cost automakers only $100 per new car at the factory. Only another $30 to also add compatibility with methanol and all other alcohols on top of that, for a total of a measly $130 per new car. Once alcohol compatibility is widespread, alcohol fuel availability should become widespread too, especially given methanol's extremely low cost.
      lne937s
      • 2 Hours Ago
      We need to end the E85 CAFE credit. Providing a credit to automakers that allows them to make less efficient vehicles makes no sense. You are just putting less efficient cars on the road based on the fairy tail that the owners would everwhelming choose to put E85 in them. The net result of the E85 CAFE credit is this country burning more gasoline and becoming more dependant of foriegn oil.
        carney373
        • 2 Hours Ago
        @lne937s
        If flex fuel vehicle owners with access to E85 are not buying it, we can take further action like public education campaigns, further taxing gasoline, or subsidizing ethanol. But the key is to have that compatibility in the first place. Without it, buying and using E85 isn't even an option.
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      Seth
      • 2 Hours Ago
      So...after reading the article, E85 has nothing to do with their increase of gasoline use. The article does not say what vehicle the E85 vehicle is replacing, nor if more vehicles were purchased increasing the size of the fleet. In short the article says that the govt. bought more gas than they did before. They were unable to use the E85 option in their vehicles since E85 was not made available to them. But if they replaced a GM Cobalt (compact) with a GM flex impala (large sedan) it is not a surprise that they used more gas. They should have replaced a compact car with a comparable etc. Of course as the comments noticed, there are almost no flex fuel compact cars available without aftermarket modification.
      harlanx6
      • 2 Hours Ago
      The old "unintended consquences" strikes again as government once again spends more resulting in spending even MORE. These bureaucrats could screw up a wet dream!
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