I posted on the opening of a handfull of E85 outlets in Pennsylvania yesterday, a posting which attracted the following from Fred in comments:
Corporate "drooling" over the E85 hoax and its marketing to the exclusion of other, better technologies is troubling.
Fred’s a man of few words and strong convictions. He owns what’s believed to be the only diesel-powered 9-3 Sports Sedan in the USA. And despite my reportage of E85 events in the US and the way it might sound, I agree with him 100%.
The promotion of E85 in the US by General Motors and Ford is essentially a walk down the path of least resistance. As alternative fuels are the darling in these times of higher gasoline prices, the General has cranked up its marketing machine to drive the alternative that it’s got some marketshare in: E85.
There’s plenty of evidence out there to suggest that E85, whilst good in the emissions department, is less than efficient in terms of the resources used to produce it. It also gets you less mileage per tank of gas.
These negative messages are being countered by an environmentally friendly emphasis in concert with a no-foreign-fuels-/-help-our-farmers angle, which is fair enough.
At the end of the day, this is all spin. Running a modern, clean and efficient diesel engine can also involve renewable organic fuels, uses less fuel per mile and the emissions are nothing like the diesels of old. The performance from a modern diesel is fantastic (as long as you don’t miss the high revs) and if you’re clever, and game, you can even make your fuel at home.
The problem is that GM doesn’t have a diesel in its lineup that’s capable of meeting the emissions standards that will come into play in the US market for 2007.
For GM, E85 is easier to cater to. A few hardened engine parts and tougher fuel linings are the basics they need, which is a lot cheaper than developing a whole new diesel engine in a hurry. Add to this the fact that they’ve already got a whole fleet of E85 vehicles out there and the path of least resistance becomes a greased slippery slope. GM have been making E85 vehicles for years as doing so, combined with the wonders of chemistry and statistics, allowed them to claim lower total theoretical emissions from vehicles sales.
"Live Green, Go Yellow" is a marketing machine aimed at developing interest in the company, as well as encouraging the maintenance of whatever subsidies and incentives are involved in the whole E85 process. Corn is only useful as an ethanol source because it’s already there and it tugs at many average an American’s heartstrings to see that the farmers are supported. Science has shown that it’s fairly inefficient as an ethanol source, but until technologies for using switchgrass and other more efficient sources are perfected, corn provides a fuel that’s handy politically and feels good, despite its drawbacks.
So why would I publicise it and promote it?
Basically as an investment in the future. If these more efficient ethanol sources can be developed and made viable, then E85 has a future. Saab have experienced great success in Sweden with the car and whilst that doesn’t automotically translate to success in the US, the Biopower Beast unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this year – especially if enhanced with an Epsilon II platform and AWD in the next few years – would create quite a bit of interest.
BioD is a great technology now and I wish Saab had an engine it could use in the US to exploit the greater availability of diesel from next year. But they haven’t got that engine and word is, they won’t anytime soon.
If these E85 technologies can be refined however, Saab’s in a great position to capitalise, which is my main interest in the whole issue.
In a way, I’m a participant on the slippery slide of least resistance too.
By the way, I’m no scientist. All of the above was written off the top of my head and I’m happy to rewrite any errors that you might like to point out in comments. I think the basics above are fundamentally correct though.