Most automakers on board with E15
As 2014 nears, the ethanol industry finds itself in the challenging position of urging the EPA not to lower the renewable volume obligations of the renewable fuels standard while simultaneously pushing forward aggressively with E15 implementation.
Obviously, the two issues are critically intertwined. The EPA cited the challenge of the E10 blend wall as one reason for its proposal to tap breaks on the RFS next year. That disclosure made it clearer than ever that the market penetration of E15 and higher-level ethanol blends is crucial to our government’s near- and long-term commitment to biofuels—regardless of any chicken and egg thing.
Back in April, the Renewable Fuels Association sent a letter to EPA, urging the agency to reconsider several assumptions related to its decision to deconstruct CAFE credits for flex-fuel vehicles, the ethanol trade group said automaker reluctance to move forward with E15-capable engines was, at the time, compounding the concurrent challenges of building E15 refueling infrastructure while ensuring that more American cars, SUVs and light trucks have the backing of OEMs—and not just EPA—to use the fuel.
Eight months later, the outlook has improved somewhat. The number of U.S. retailers offering E15 has grown stepwise with the number of 2014 vehicles rolling into showrooms E15 ready.
Ford has approved all of its new models for E15, releasing an ethanol content statement for its light-trucks, SUVs and cars that expressly says the vehicles may be fueled with 15 percent ethanol.
General Motors had already done the same for all of its newer vehicles, going back to 2012 model year Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevys and GMCs. In a letter to EPM last week, GM said, “When EPA changed its regulations to allow the use of E15, we made the necessary hardware and control changes to ensure our non-FlexFuel vehicles will run effectively on the higher-ethanol E15 blend fuel as it potentially becomes more available in the marketplace. We’re focused on securing a safe and trouble-free driving experience for our customers and this modification prepares vehicles for the introduction of E15.”
Most of Honda’s cars and SUVs are E15 approved. Accords, CR-Vs, Pilots, Odysseys and other top sellers are all covered for 15 percent ethanol. “Knowing that E15 is an approved fuel now, we have hardened almost all of our 2014 vehicles for it,” a representative of Honda told EPM in mid-December. “As the fuel migrates to the market, assuming it does, we can assure our customers that their vehicle’s engines will not be compromised.”
Other foreign automakers have reportedly moved on official E15 approvals, too. Jaguar, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz have all OK’d their 2014 vehicles for 15 percent ethanol; Toyota has brought two-thirds of its fleet up to speed.
Laggards in the E15 authorization movement are Volvo, Nissan, Mazda and, surprisingly, Chrysler. According to an auto industry tracking document obtained by EPM, Those manufacturers have yet to officially approve their new vehicles for E15, and the ethanol content statement consumers receive with 2014 Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps still says “DO NOT use gasoline containing methanol or gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol.”
Progress is being made, but Chrysler’s deferred sanctioning of E15, alone, is an indicator of how much still needs to be done to put the blend wall behind us.