That BioPower question

A few days ago I asked for some info and people’s thoughts on the the suggestion that Saab make their entire range of gasoline engines BioPower compatible. The big question was whether or not the modified parts used in the BioPower models justify the extra $1,000 to $1,500 they charge for the BioPower vehicles.

Unfortunately, we’re no closer to knowing the exact extra cost of the modified parts – BUT – I do have a bit more insight into the situation thanks to the comments left on the post and some info that came to me via someone in a position to know.

It seems the premium is indeed charged to cover not only the addition cost of the modified parts, but also to recoup some of the R&D costs that go into making a system like BioPower bullet-proof for a consumer market.

I can understand this, but I still maintain that Saab should consider going all BioPower at a modified price. It’s less of an engineering thing, but more of a marketing thing, although that may put me at odds with Saab USA.

My theory:

A modest price rise on both the 9-3 and 9-5 BioPower vehicles, something in the order of around $400 per vehicle, should not be a dealbreaker for those people that are shopping for a car in this class. Assuming that the additional cost of the modified parts is as small as believed, making all the gasoline 9-3s and 9-5s BioPower compatible across this number of vehicles would yield a greater return to cover the R&D costs due to the greater sales volume.

In addition, a larger number of BioPower cars means you start to build some economies of scale and those modified parts should actually get cheaper.

One interesting question for the naysayers on this issue: GM has been making flexfuel vehicles in the US, mostly in the truck line, for years in order to fit in with total fleet emissions regulations. I’d venture to guess that a lot of people in the US own flexfuel vehicles and don’t even know it. There’s a lot of modified equipment on the Saab BioPower vehicles, even things like wiring harnesses are different to cope with block heaters to assist with cold-weather starting.

The question: do all the GM flexfuel vehicles in the US come with these full modifications, or did they figure that only a fraction of people would run them on E85 and therefore skimp on some of them?

If they’ve been doing things the right way all along then it shouldn’t be a big deal to do this across the Saab range.

Saab USA are right into their ‘Born From Jets’ thing and all indications are that that’s not going to change anytime soon. I’m more of a ‘Move Your Mind’ man myself, and the prospect of going all BioPower, whilst not as cool as jets, has a lot of Saab substance to it.

Remember “Form follows Function”?

Going all BioPower means that Saab could establish their environmental credentials right at the beginning of the alternative fuels movement. Is this important? Only if ethanol really does take off as a fuel, and with cellulosic ethanol being a real possibility in the near future, there’s a real possibility that it could. Saab’s establishing of credentials as an environmentally conscious company right now could prove to be as important as Toyota’s conception of a small reliable car right before women became more independant and cashed up. People without access to E85 aren’t inconvenienced as they can run it on regular gasoline with no problems.

Add to the environmental cred Saab’s impeccable record for safety and utility and you have some real elements of substance to promote about the brand.

Saab. All turbo. All green. All safe.

Move Your Mind.

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14 Comments

  1. I think your E85 idea does have merit, however, even a rather small increase in price here in the US could be detrimental. There are quite a few incentives going on now that are really moving some Saabs but the reductions in price are some 4 – 5 grand off; in some cases more. Without incentives, Saabs are generally perceived as already being over-priced.

  2. Swade, your assertion that SAAB must be at the forefront of environmental developments is spot on. However it is way too soon to move BioPower from an otiption to standard fit. So far the 3 alternatives to petrol and diesel, as I see it, are hybrid, biofuel, pure electric, fuel cell or hydrogen and none of them are as clean as they look.

    Look at the images of the environmental damage caused by battery production for hybrids cars. My concern is that if bioethanol production expands too rapidly we will see images of deforestation attributed to the production of the fuel. Imagine looking at your biofuel car and seeing a news report detailing the effects of fertilisers and pesticides used to grow the crops. Will there be negative reports on the living conditions of 3rd world farmers growning sugar cane etc

    Bioethanol is not he problem in itself – it will be the corporations producing it that will be the problem. Look at the history of lead in petrol if you want to see how big business can ignore safety concerns in the quest for profits.

    I think if SAAB are to go all BioPower they will need to have a monitoring structure in place for the suppliers of the fuel and it will need to be monitored.

    It can be done but it must be done correctly. If SAAB can ensure the production is up to standard I will be looking at it for my next car (if I can get the fuel). Long term though remember it is not always the best technology or product that succeeds, it is marketing. Look at VHS vs Betamax, Ipods vs MP3,the sucess of BMW, Microsoft vs Anybody…

  3. I think it ‘s ridiculous not to give customers a choice. Why make them spend more money.
    We’re already spending an extra 600$ for metallic paint.
    Remember when Saab used to charge $500 extra for black paint in the 80’s.
    I drive an E-85 Ford Taurus for my company in the field. It uses much more fuel! than a regular car. You dig- mpg goes up. It also gave starting problems on mornings.

  4. All Saab’s should be biofuel-capable (ideally B100 biodiesel and E100).
    Doing things any other way just sends a mixed marketing message: “Saab is the BioPower company, only we can’t be bothered to sell you a BioPower car. Please go away and buy something else.”

    R&D costs are sunk costs. Of course they are going to be high on a per-unit basis if they do not offer any Biopower cars for sale in their biggest market.

  5. Swade,
    Sorry, I made a mistake in my earlier comment. I should have said the ‘mpg’ goes down, instead of up. This is in regard to the E-85 Ford Taurus that I drive for my company. You can practically see the needle on the gas gauge moving. With regular gas I get better mileage. The whole E-85 thing is being promoted by politicians(here in Illinois corn is big agribusiness)and enviro wackos. The growing of corn also produces huge amounts of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and CO2. This is something they hide.

  6. i was on saabvideos last night and was watching all the move your mind commercials and they all actually informed the audience of what a saab is and their features without going into the childish born from jets quotes. born from jets suck, the commercials dont even really give you any information about saab. we need move your mind in the us

  7. Biofuel. Too good to be true?

    On the face of it, this biofuel idea looks great …but if there is large-scale uptake of the technology then are we not looking at new problems?

    Perhaps we are introducing new problems of deforestation, intensive farming and farming for fuel rather than food where it is needed.

    I can not help thinking that biofuel is not the panacea that it is made out to be.

  8. Biofuel. Too good to be true?

    On the face of it, this biofuel idea looks great …but if there is large-scale uptake of the technology then are we not looking at new problems?

    Perhaps we are introducing new problems of deforestation, intensive farming and farming for fuel rather than food where it is needed.

    I can not help thinking that biofuel is not the panacea that it is made out to be.

  9. I think some of us are confused as to what SAAB BioPower is. BioPower runs on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol. The bio part of the name comes from the fact that ethanol can be produced from crops such as corn or sugar cane. The fuel is referred to as E85 or E100. E for ethanol and the number for the percentage of ethanol mixed with gasoline. In California, ethanol is already mixed with gasoline, but in very small percentages like E05 or E10. All cars can run on E10 without modification, but older cars may suffer from a deteriorating fuel system due to the ethanol.

    Biodiesel is something completely different. It is a diesel fuel made from refining vegetable oil and mixed with standard petroleum diesel fuel in varying amounts and is referred to as B10 to B100, depending on the percentage of biodiesel and standard diesel.

    A BioPower car can run on any mixture of E85 or gasoline, but cannot run any B[any number] because it is a diesel fuel. Its the same as how your gasoline powered car will not run if you accidentally fill it with diesel.

  10. I agree with mo, in Europe the whole jet thing gave journalists who did not like SAABs a big stick to beat them with. We have move your mind here in the UK and it is much more appropriate. Jets went out along with the concept of the premium hatch….

  11. I forgot to put in my personal opinion:

    I am not really a fan of the current push for ethanol made from corn. The amount of energy that comes out of the end product is less than the amount of energy produced to make the product. There are too many inputs to name, but a few are water (huge amounts of energy used to pump, scarce resource, takes huge amounts to grow corn…what happens if there’s a drought, bad weather, or locusts???), fertilizers and pesticides (you can go on for days talking about the negative effects of these… aside from the environmental concerns, it takes massive amounts of energy to produce them), and production and transportation energy (energy used to plow the fields, harvest the crop, transport it to the refinery, refining, transporting to the E85 station).

    All of these things add up and it just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Ethanol made from cellulose makes complete sense to me. I hope they figure that out soon. Cellulose is everywhere from yard waste to waste paper. You don’t need to grow crops for it because they there is so much of it as waste already. The corn we eat has stalks and husks, the trees that we trim in our back yards, the junk mail in our mail boxes… It makes sense!

    So… I don’t like crop-based ethanol, but I see it as a stepping stone while cellulosic ethanol is being developed so that the customer base and infrastructure is there when the better fuel is ready to be sold.

  12. I would not at this time pay EXTRA for flex-fuel capability in a new SAAB. If it was incorporated in the price of every new SAAB then I really have no choice in the matter anyway. But if I had the choice I would in no way pay extra for E85 capability. Why?

    Because most people don’t own a car for more than five years, probably. I just don’t see at the current rate of growth there being an E85 pump anywhere near where I drive within 5 years.

    As for cellulosic ethanol: it’s not going to be here “in the near future” as you say. DuPont, for example, won’t be producing their first drops of cellulosic ethanol for sale to the public for another four to six years:
    http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/02/24/dupont-biofuels-on-track-to-commercialize-its-biofuel-technologi/

    I would much prefer SAAB simply buy a TerraPass to cover the CO2 emissions for each car they sell. That would only add USD$50 to each car they sell. Simply purchasing carbon offsets in the form of a TerraPass for every car they sell would let SAAB USA fairly advertise themselves as the “greenest” car company in America (even the Toyota Prius puts-out carbon dioxide, just less of it than most cars…).

    For the price premium SAAB is charging British 9-5 buyers for the BioPower option they could instead purchase the optional convenience package, heated front and rear seats, automatic dimming mirrors, or electric folding mirrors. The fact that there are very few E85 stations in Britain make one wonder why it would be a good investment to pay 590 Pounds extra.

  13. I guess after re-reading my post above that I should point out that though I come off as negative toward biofuel, that is not at all the case. I do think that biofuel, with all of its faults, is a better fuel for the environment overall than petrofuel.

    That said, I want to point out another article I just found which might point toward a cost for fuel system conversion to flex-fuel:
    http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/02/25/nascar-engine-builder-responds-to-questions-about-unleaded-gas/

    The article states that for a NASCAR racecar to switch from running unleaded gasoline to ethanol each team would have to invest about $1,200 per engine.

    That would be a one-off application and I’m assuming doesn’t include any “R&D” expenses to be recouped. To roll-out biofuel capability on a larger scale should be MUCH less expensive per engine given “economies of scale”.

    I would not object to my car being flex-fuel capable but I sure wouldn’t want to pay extra for a capability I will likely never be able to utilize.

    IMHO, waste biomass biobutanol > biobutanol > cellulosic bioethanol > bioethanol > E85 > gasoline.

    Also, B100 > B20 > petrodiesel.

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