Readers respond to FFV blog

As FFV customers, it’s worth our time letting rental car agencies know that FFVs matter to us. While you are at it, fill up with E85 and educate the workers at the rental car agency.
By Holly Jessen | December 01, 2014

Last week, I wrote about my experience attempting to rent a flex-fuel vehicle on a work trip. I must have struck a chord because I received several positive comments and several emails about it. That might not sound like a big deal, but it's definitely different than the norm.

In journalism, you don’t often get positive feedback about what you write.  If I do receive positive comments, they usually come after an ethanol hater has made negative comments. (Notably, there have been no negative comments on this blog at all, at least so far.) And, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve ever received email comments about my blog. I thought it merited following up on the topic.

One of the emails I got was from Brent Bailey, 25x’25 Alliance state activities coordinator. He pointed out that my difficulty in renting an FFV may have been because I was looking for a smaller car. “I don’t think it is much of a secret that the autos tend to focus on including FFV technology on its larger vehicles on the manufacturing line,” he said. “This is because these vehicles have generally lower miles per gallon ratings and need the FFV option to help in the fleet wide corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) ratings established by EPA and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).”

He also mentioned that in the last few years the EPA has been reducing the incentive for automakers to introduce and manufacture new FFVs. In November, 25x’25 and a total of 55 partners sent a letter supporting automakers’ proposal to increase the weighting factor for FFVs, but, unfortunately, the EPA didn’t listen. It was recently announced that the EPA reduced the FFV weighing factor by another 30 percent.

The organization feels EPA’s decision was shortsighted. “So, the Obama Administration supports the use of biofuels via its Climate Action Plan, it wants to reduce overall GHGs via the Clean Power Plan, and biofuels is seen as one of the most important national security strategies we have under the Department of Defense,” Bailey said in his email to me. “Yet, the Obama Administration and EPA are choking off the production of vehicles that consume higher ethanol blends and is a key market for growth beyond the ‘blend wall.’ Amazing.”

One person that commented on my blog last week was Howard Marks, bioenergy analyst for Energetics Inc., which is currently a consultant to the Bioenergy Technologies Office of the U.S. DOE. Besides coincidentally having the same name as my mother’s uncle, Marks had a very good point. Once you rent an FFV, it’s important to fill that FFV up with E85.

Marks told a story about when he worked for the DOE and rented a FFV from Enterprise. “When I asked where the nearest E85 station was located to the airport, the clerk seemed dumbfounded and didn't even know he had rented me a flex-fuel vehicle or that it ran on E85,” he wrote. “No one, apparently, had ever asked that question or Enterprise never took the time to brief employees about the operating characteristics of flex-fuel cars.” So, Marks went on the DOE website and found an E85 pump less than a mile from the airport, where he filled up before returning the car. 

Michael Scholl, communications manager for DSM, commented and followed up with an email about how he makes sure he can rent a FFV and fill up with E85. He’s had the best luck with using National’s Emerald Aisle, where customers can walk down a line of vehicles and choose the one they want, he said. He watches for FFV badges but, since not all automakers put FFV badges on their vehicles he also references a list of FFVs from the DOE’s 2015 Fuel Economy Guide. An updated version was released Nov. 21 and the list of ethanol flex-fuel vehicels starts on page 36.

Joanne Ivancic, executive director of Advanced Biofuels USA, and I also exchanged emails on the subject. It would be nice, she said, if rental companies would train their employees about FFVs and highlight the FFVs they have to rent in advertising. But how do we get them to do that?

One of her ideas really caught my attention. What if the local E85 stations, near where rental agencies are located, touched base with the rental companies and educated them on FFVs and E85? They could provide cards or pamphlets to put in each FFV. The printed information could contain information about what an FFV is and where to fill up on E85. In order to get this done, the reality is that an ethanol industry organization would need to help retailers with this project.

She also mentioned frustrating examples of car dealership representatives and mechanics telling FFV owners that E85 would ruin their engine and void their warranty. In order to reach that audience, Advanced Biofuels USA wanted to have a booth at the auto show in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23 to Feb. 1. Unfortunately, the organization was unable to get the funds together. “(There is) so much need for education and so little resources to get it done,” she said.

It’s true that rental FFVS are just a small portion of all the FFVs out on the roads today. But if you travel and rent cars, I think it’s worth your time to ask for an FFV and fill it up with E85. If, in that process, you can show the rental companies that renting an FFV matters to you, the customer, and even possibly educate the rental company employee working behind the counter, all the better.