NACS survey shows majority of fuel customers interested in E15

By Erin Voegele | June 12, 2013

The National Association of Convenience Stores has released the results of a survey on E15 and E85 it conducted on both consumers and fuel retailers. According to information released by the organization, the survey aimed to assess how familiar respondents are with the fuel blends.

According to results published by NACS, approximately 26 percent of fuel customers said they were familiar with E15. After describing the fuel blend to those surveyed, 59 percent of customers said they would consider purchasing E15 if it was the same price per gallon as gasoline.

In addition, 59 percent on consumers who said they would consider using E15 indicated their primary vehicle is model year 2001 or earlier. Vehicles older than model year 2001 are not approved for the use of E15 by the U.S. EPA. However, NACS indicated in its release that respondents unfamiliar with E15 were not informed of the regulatory limitation as part of the fuel description provided during the survey.

“Consumer unfamiliarity with E15 significantly limits its retail availability because demand is insufficient,” said John Eichberger, NACS vice president of government relations, in a statement. “Worse, most consumers are wary of the product: 55 percent of those who said that they will not purchase E15 said that they are worried that it will damage their vehicles and 45 percent are worried about decreased performance and fuel efficiency. Limited potential demand will not change until some negative perceptions about the fuel are addressed through a comprehensive education campaign.”

According to NACS, 79 percent of NACA members surveyed (retailers), cited a lack of demand for E15 as the reason they don’t sell the fuel blend.

Regarding E85, only 29 percent of customers surveyed said they were familiar with E85, a statistic NACS called surprising considering the fuel blend has been available for more than a decade. Approximately 75 percent of retailers surveyed indicated that demand isn’t sufficient for them to install E85 pumps.

About 46 percent of retailers said costs associated with upgrades to sell E15 were a concern, with 44 percent indicating the same concern for E85. Some retailers also expressed liability concerns over refueling, with 46 percent citing liability concerns over E15 and 44 percent citing the same concerns for E85. However, 64 percent of retailers said the protection from misfueling liability would entice them to consider selling E15, and 46 percent said that similar protections would entice them to sell E85.

In its release, NACS noted that policymakers must take steps to make higher ethanol blends legal and more attractive to sell. The organization also called for educational campaigns to build customer demand. Finally, NACS noted it would like to see statutory increases in the renewable fuel standard (RFS) adjusted each year to reflect the declining size of the gasoline market, as new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards are reducing the volume of gasoline consumed in the U.S.

Ron Lamberty, senior vice president for the American Coalition for Ethanol, called initial reports of the survey very good news for E15 and the ethanol industry.  “I think this shows that despite all of Big Oil's misinformation and scare tactics, consumers are interested in purchasing E15 as an alternative to gasoline, even if the price were the same as gas. It's especially encouraging when you consider the fact that at current prices, E15 would be 15 to 20 cents less than gasoline, and two to five cents under E10," said Lamberty. He said the survey results "mirror what we have been hearing from the marketers that are selling E15. In most cases, E15 becomes one of the top sellers in stations that add it."

Lamberty also called NACS' announcement of the survey "puzzling."  "NACS calls demand for E15 "insufficient." I've been working in the convenience store industry for over 30 years and don’t think I’ve ever seen a product—much less a fuel product—that three out of five customers say they want. If there was, I can’t imagine that NACS would call that kind of demand “insufficient," said Lamberty. "Most stations don't sell one-tenth that much premium gasoline, and that has always been enough for oil companies to mandate its sale in their customers' stations."