OPINION: Putting consumers in the driver’s seat with E85

By Robert White, vice president of industry relations at the Renewable Fuels Association | December 05, 2018

While we eagerly await EPA approval of year-round E15, let’s not forget that roughly one out of every 10 vehicles on the road today is a flex fuel vehicle (FFV)  that can use ethanol flex fuels containing as much as 85 percent ethanol.  

If the FFVs already on the road today refueled with E85 flex fuel even half of the time, demand for ethanol would increase by a whopping 5 billion gallons. But education is key. For greater market expansion, we need to ensure consumers can find E85 at their local stations, and we need to push automakers to continue making lots of FFVs.

E85 has been in the marketplace for more than two decades and its presence continues to grow. There are now more than 4,500 retail stations that offer E85 or other flex fuels.  E85 is higher octane than all unleaded options today, and reduces emissions more than 30 percent over traditional gasoline. Plus, E85 typically offers a price discount to traditional gasoline, lowering the cost per mile for consumers.

Lots of retailers offer E85, providing opportunity to attract new customers by offering a unique product. Because E85 is typically priced at a discount to all unleaded grades, retailers are able to display a much lower price on their signs than their competition, increasing traffic to their station and letting the education process start organically. Additionally, introducing E85 can also offer opportunities for other midlevel ethanol blends, such as E15 and E30. Most retailers that offer higher blends of ethanol note new customers, not just existing customers converting to these new fuels, which also means increased sales inside. 

Consumers who want to take advantage of the higher octane, lower priced fuel don’t need to drive around looking for E85. Using www.E85prices.com, a crowdsourced website operated by the Renewable Fuels Association, customers can view the stations closest to them that offer E85, and at what price. There’s also the E85prices.com mobile app for those who want to access the information on the go.

There are now more than 24 million FFVs on the road, which represents roughly 10 percent of all registered vehicles. Plus, federally-regulated fleets that operate FFVs also must use E85 if it is available within 5 miles or 15 minutes of your station. Those are all potential new customers for you!

We continue to encourage automakers to make more FFV models, allowing more consumers to take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits that come with flex fuels. For model year 2019, Ford/Lincoln/Mercury led the pack with 12 flex fuel models available, followed by General Motors with 11 flex fuel models available and FCA (Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep) with five models. Additionally, automakers Mercedes-Benz offers two, while Nissan and Toyota each offer one. For years, RFA has offered a brochure available here to help drivers know if their vehicle is an FFV.

RFA continues to work on efforts to encourage greater E85 availability, such as reinstatement of more robust fuel economy credits that automakers received for producing flex fuel models. RFA is also engaged in efforts to reinstate the extension of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Tax Credit, which provides a tax credit of 30 percent, up to $30,000, to help defer the costs of additional infrastructure needed to offer E85.

Consumers should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to fuel choice. RFA is working to ensure both retailers and automakers are on track to help meet growing consumer demand for higher ethanol blends such as E85. RFA has the technical resources to help retailers through the decision-making process on existing equipment, compatibility concerns, fuel specifications and incentives. Once the station is operational, RFA even helps with the education and promotion side of things. You don’t have to do this alone.

Learn more at https://ethanolrfa.org/retailers/ or contact us directly at 202-289-3835.