Recent statements by President Bush about the number of flex-fuel vehicles seem to show a lack of understanding of the market. His mistake could have real policy implications. Lets start with what Bush said and facts about flex-fuel vehicles. In a December 17 press conference, which you can see in the video above, President Bush says "most automobiles are flex-fuel vehicles." According to the EPA website, only 6 million cars are flex-fuel capable, which is a small percentage (around 3) of the more than 195 million cars total. Most sources I read put the number of flex-fuel vehicles at about 1 percent of cars on the road. Considering growth and depending on how you measure it, flex-fuels make up, at most, a few percentage points of the total number of cars in the country, and that's being generous. Either way, characterizing "most" of the cars as flex-fuel is wrong. Here is exactly what Bush said about flex-fuel cars:
Yes. Listen, a couple points there. First of all, the first hurdle to the use of ethanol is to have automobiles that are capable of using ethanol, and most automobiles are flex-fuel vehicles. You've probably -- you've got one and you just don't know it. I mean, you use gasoline or ethanol and the engine works, either way.
Bush's follow up to the statement that most automobiles are flex-fuel vehicles was: "you've probably got one," which again seems to imply a majority of cars can use ethanol and that the lack of cars is really not a problem. Bush does say the number of cars is a hurdle but I think it is fair to ask: Does President Bush know how many flex-fuel cars are on the road? It's possible, when Bush says most cars are flex-fuel, he is talking about the average car's ability to run on E10 (10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline) which, since the mid nineties, most cars are capable of burning. Technically though, these cars are not called flex-fuel vehicles. The real question is: if he thinks the majority of cars can use a high percentage mix of ethanol, does the mistake have policy implications?
I think it does. Go below the fold to find out why.
Bush is pushing for 20 percent use of ethanol by 2020 while some say there is already a ethanol glut as production begins to ramp up. The glut is due to a lack of gas stations that pump ethanol and the number of cars (flex-fuel vehicles) that car run on ethanol. The energy bill, which president Bush signed, encourages the use of flex-fuels but Bush has not gone as far as some presidential candidates that say all cars should be mandated to be flex-fuel and every gas station should have an ethanol pump. Did president Bush not push for a flex-fuel car law because he thinks most cars are already flex-fuel capable?
I really hope Bush meant to say "many" instead of "most" and that he is aware of basic facts about flex-fuel vehicles. In the same video above he says "your automobiles are going to get less miles per gallon," when taking about gas taxes, which I think is just a slip of the tongue because other remarks seem to show an understanding of gas taxes. In my opinion though, the way he describes the number of flex-fuel cars, in particular the follow up "you probably have one," seem to show he mistakenly thinks there are many flex-fuel vehicles and I think this may have led to bad policy decisions.
But who cares what I think? I want to know what you think about Bush's statement on the number of flex-fuel vehicles. Do you think his statements reflect a correct understanding of the market or do you think he is mistaken about the number of cars? If you think he is mistaken, do you think this led Bush to not support laws that would mandate all cars be flex-fuel vehicles? Sound off in comments.