Automaker group voices support for new fuel technologies

By Kris Bevill | October 07, 2011

Calling their industries’ relationship a “productive and cordial” one, Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen and Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, issued a joint statement from the RFA’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., asserting the two groups’ commitments to implementing renewable fuel technologies throughout the U.S. But while some progress has been made in getting the two industries to agree on certain items, the groups remain divided on many important issues.

“Both the automotive and ethanol industries are defined by their constant innovation and evolution,” the pair stated. “We firmly believe that America can secure its energy future and create jobs by investing in new vehicle and fuel technologies that harness the innovative power of American workers to redefine how we power our cars. Despite current differences over how to best increase the amount of ethanol included in America’s fuel supply, automotive and ethanol interests all agree that renewable fuels are a path down which American must head.”

Both groups say they support the use of renewable fuels and agree that focus should be given to building out biofuels infrastructure, but that’s largely where the shared viewpoints end. The RFA strongly supports the move to E15 and sponsored automotive engineering firm Ricardo Inc.’s study late last year that showed E15 can be safely used in any light-duty vehicle model year 1994 and newer. The auto alliance, however, believes more testing needs to be conducted on E15 before it can be introduced into the marketplace. In fact, the group has joined representatives of the small engine and marine manufacturing industries in suing the EPA over its plan to mitigate misfueling with a warning label.

Instead of making policies retroactive to include vehicles that were manufactured years ago, auto manufacturers would like to see policies for fuel blends apply only to future model years. “Automakers believe that renewable fuels are an important component of our national energy security, but it is not in the longer term interest of the government, vehicle manufacturers, fuel distributors or the ethanol industry itself, to find out after the fact that equipment or performance problems are occurring from rushing a new fuel into the national marketplace,” the group stated. In comments delivered to RFA members at the group’s annual meeting, Bainwol also asserted that when mid-level ethanol blends enter the market, measures should be taken to ensure the availability of legacy fuels for older engines and retailers must be provided with liability protection in the case of misfueling by consumers.

The RFA also supports the Open Fuel Standard—legislation that would mandate the production of vehicles capable of utilizing any number of alternative fuels. But the auto manufacturers have yet to sign on to the effort, stating that while they are currently manufacturing flex-fuel vehicles and support a variety of technology approaches, they believe consumers should choose the winners, not the government. “We oppose marketplace mandates in principle, and especially when they are production mandates when E85 is not widely available,” the group’s spokesperson stated. “Historically, there has been a chicken and egg issue with fuels, with energy providers saying automakers need to build the vehicles before there will be a market for the fuels, and automakers saying there is no market for the cars without the fuels availability. Our position is that the fuels and vehicles should be introduced in harmony so there is market acceptance and market uptake of the products.”