The Road Ahead for FFVs

Automakers are expected to produce nearly 50 2009 flexible-fuel vehicle models, doubling their offerings from 2008. EPM examines the future of the flexible-fuel vehicle infrastructure and what each of these companies has to offer consumers who want to use ethanol blends.
By Anna Austin | November 03, 2008
Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) have made a lot of headway in the past 10 years. Since 1998, the number of FFVs on America's roads has increased from about 171,000 to more than 6 million.

When gas prices rocketed to new heights and consumers started to see the wisdom of reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil, FFVs suddenly became more attractive. Automakers are gearing up to meet the demand as consumers scramble to exchange their vehicles for more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly automobiles. Although miles achieved per gallon for E85 may be slightly below vehicles fueled with regular-unleaded gasoline, the price of ethanol blends has been considerably cheaper.

In March 2006, Chrysler LLC, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. pledged to convert 50 percent of each company's fleet to FFVs by 2012, which is good news for consumers and the environment. According to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, there are approximately 6 million E85 compatible vehicles on American roads today. The problem with this to date, however, is that there are less than 1,800 gas stations nationwide that offer E85 out of a total of 161,000. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the majority of states host 25 or less E85 fueling stations, and five Northeast states, and Alaska and Hawaii, don't have any. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa lead the nation with more than 100 stations each.

Phil Lampert, executive director of the NEVC, says much progress needs to be made to keep up with the vehicle manufacturers. "Obviously, we aren't close to the amount of E85 stations we must have to make this move forward," he says. "We need to continue to work on that infrastructure—there is no value to increase flex-fuel vehicle production unless this happens."

The NEVC is a nonprofit membership organization that serves as the nation's primary advocacy group promoting the use of 85 percent ethanol as an alternative transportation fuel. NEVC is composed of a wide range of organizations, including state and local interest groups, state and local elected officials, ethanol producers, vehicle manufacturers, agricultural interests, ethanol suppliers and others.

Lampert says vehicle manufacturers have stepped up to the plate in 2009, investing many resources toward the design, support and distribution of FFVs. "We can't say enough positive things about them," he adds, emphasizing that although incentives are clearly in sight, vehicle manufacturers have no obligations. "They are not required to build them, they don't receive any money from the government—but they have found there is a demand," Lampert says. "With the very high requirement levels in the renewable fuels standard, everyone realizes we have to have millions of FFVs produced every year, rather than hundreds of thousands."

General Motors: Leader of the Pack
General Motors leads the pack with a total of 18 different FFVs being offered in the United States in 2009, three more than in 2008. Models include:
Buick: *Lucerne; Cadillac: *Escalade, *Escalade ESV and *Escalade EXT; Chevrolet: Avalanche, Express, *HHR, *HHR Panel, Impala, *Silverado, Suburban and *Tahoe; GMC: Savana, Sierra, Yukon, Yukon XLHummer: *H2 and *H2 SUT. (* indicates FFV option new in 2009)

GM cars and trucks account for 3 million of the 6 million FFVs on U.S. roadways and the company produced more than 1 million FFV models in North America and Brazil last year.

Addressing the release of GM's 2009 lineup, Beth Lowery, GM vice president of environment, energy and safety policy, says GM is on target to make 50 percent of its vehicles flexible-fuel capable by 2012, providing the infrastructure is in place. "We continue to believe that biofuels, specifically E85, is the most significant thing we can do in the near-term to offset future energy demands," she says.

In May 2008, GM and Mascoma Corp. announced a strategic relationship to develop cellulosic ethanol focused on Mascoma's single-step biochemical conversion of nongrain biomass into low-carbon alternative fuels to help address increasing energy demand. GM's involvement with Mascoma will include projects to evaluate materials and other fuels for specific engine applications and collaborating on Mascoma's efforts to expand its commercialization projects globally, including promotion of increased biofuels distribution.

Chrysler's Big 10
Chrysler offers 10 FFV models in the United States in 2009—the same number and models the company offered in 2008—an impressively broad range. The company has been making FFVs since 1998, longer than any of the other five automakers. From a minivan to a convertible, chances are a consumer will find an FFV that best suits them. "As the price of fuel has risen, many consumers are looking for smaller engines in an FFV," Lampert says. "The 2.7 liter Avenger and Sebring address that demand."

Models include: Chrysler: Aspen, Sebring (convertible and sedan) and Town and Country; Dodge: Avenger, Dakota, Durango, Grand Caravan and Ram 1500; Jeep: Commander and Grand Cherokee.

This is the seventh consecutive year of E85 capability for the Chrysler Sebring sedan, the company's veteran FFV. The Dodge Ram 1500 will enter its sixth consecutive year.

Ford's Lineup
Offering more than double the number of FFVs than it did in 2008, Ford has made great progress towards its 50 percent E85 conversion goal in one year.

Ford models include: Ford: Crown Victoria, F-150, *E-Series Commercial Van, Wagon and Cutaway, *Expedition/Expedition EL; Mercury: Grand Marquis; Lincoln: *Town Car and *Navigator.

"Our big story for the coming year is the all-new F-150, which has an FFV option," says Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer. "The 2009 F-150 goes on sale this month (October) and is another big step forward in our leadership story." The new F-150 is categorized as a "superior fuel economy" edition that the automaker says delivers 15 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. A considerable improvement compared with last year's 5.4-liter V8 F-150, which achieved 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway. This is the fourth consecutive year in which Ford is offering the F-150 with a FFV option.

Schirmer adds that there are no significant changes from carry-over models from 2007.

The Rest of the Pack: Mercedes Benz, Nissan and Toyota
Mercedes Benz is offering one FFV in the United States in 2009—the Merdeces Benz C300 Luxury & Sport, its second year of possessing the FFV option. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will continue its Titan for the fifth consecutive year and Armada for the third.

Toyota becomes the new kid on the block, introducing its first-ever FFVs in the United States—5.7-liter Sequoia and Tundra.

Now that the automakers are on track, the number of E85 stations available nationwide needs to increase greatly. Because they require little or no additional expense to the consumer and carry the same warranties as regular-unleaded gasoline-powered vehicles, it is clear that FFVs will play a significant role in the future of the automobile industry.

Anna Austin is an Ethanol Producer Magazine staff writer. Reach her at aaustin@bbiinternational.com or (701) 738-4968.