Understanding Auto Manufacturers' Concerns with E15

Prairie Gleanings

Domestic auto manufacturers appear hesitant to condemn or condone E15 waiver approval.

Published on: February 21, 2011
There’s been a lot of talk about the EPA’s recent E15 waiver at the 2011 National Ethanol Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

When the waiver notice came out, I knew right away it wasn’t likely to fully satisfy ethanol proponents. Expanding the waiver to include vehicle model years 2001 and newer was commendable, but as Renewable Fuels Association’s Bob Dinneen points out, that’s only about 61% of the U.S. auto fleet.

One thing I didn’t give a lot of thought to was how U.S. auto manufacturers would view the waiver. Since domestic manufacturers are well ahead of the competition in terms of ethanol use, I figured they would be quite agreeable to the waiver. Turns out, my initial thoughts may have missed the mark.

Granted, no one affiliated with U.S. auto manufacturers has blatantly said they are against E15. However, they haven’t been overly supportive either. Instead, there appears to be some hesitancy to condone or condemn the fuel from a couple of the domestic auto representatives at NEC.

In wading through their comments, there seems to be several concerns. First, they have made a point to say their cars are designed specifically for a certain fuel. The car’s owner’s manual will tell you which fuel it is designed for. As such, it’s highly doubtful any pre-2005 automobiles will mention E15.

While this appears to be a liability issue, it’s also an engineering issue. One panelist in particular mentioned it’s tough to continually change fuel blends and still meet emission requirements, performance expectations, reliability projections, etc.

In the end, I think it comes down to one significant fear: companies are afraid poorer performance/reliability/etc. will be blamed on the automobile, not the fuel.

I can see their point. Take lawn power tools for example. A lot has been said about E15 not being compatible with certain lawn mowers. Let’s say I’m a regular consumer who has no idea what blend of ethanol is coming out of the pump. As a result, I fill my weed wacker with E15. My weed wacker quits halfway through the season.

Since I paid only $100 for it, it makes more sense for me to replace it than repair it. Now, do you think I’d buy the same brand? Probably not, if I didn’t realize the problem was in the fuel, not the weed wacker.

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