Consumers Can Use Any Fuel They Want ... As Long As It's Gasoline

Friday, July 13, 2012

By Marc J. Rauch, Executive Vice President and Co-Publisher of The Auto Channel.

When Ford designed the Model T it was said that you can get the car in any color you want, as long as it’s black. The public has that same limited choice when it comes to fuels.

At the SAE (Society of Automobile Engineers) World Congress meeting that has been taking place in Detroit this week, a group of automaker representatives voiced their collective opinion that internal combustion engines — versus electric — would continue to dominate new vehicle manufacturing for at least the next two decades. This confirms what we at The Auto Channel have been saying for the past few years: That electric vehicles are currently nothing more than just a diversion to keep the public from earnestly seeking and accepting alternative fuel solutions.

While the various OEM experts voiced somewhat differing opinions on the efficiency and economy of gasoline or diesel, they pretty much remained centered on these petroleum-based fuels.

Paradoxically, different automotive media outlets, such as Wards and NADA reported on the SAE event by headlining their stories with “Consumers Will Determine Future Fuels...” — as if consumers will actually be given the opportunity to make their own decision. In fact, of course, as long as the oil-gasoline industry is allowed to circulate misinformation about biofuel alternatives, and pay-off politicians or media spokespeople, the public will never get the opportunity to vote with their wallets because the alternative fuels will either never be readily available to them or they’ll not have engines that are capable of using the fuels (as in the case of CNG and propane).

In general, the lack of correct information within the automaker community about biofuels is so prevalent that it is laughable. For example, I recently had a conversation with a technical rep from Volvo where I asked him why Volvo cars are not marketed as being flex-fuel cars. He said that they weren’t marketed as such because they are not flex-fuel capable. I asked where the Volvo cars sold in America are manufactured, and he replied in Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries). I then asked what differences there are in cars sold in Sweden compared to America, outside of some structural safety changes. He replied that to his knowledge there weren’t any. So then I said, “Then your cars are flex-fuel because they have to be flex-fuel for Sweden since the use of biofuels is mandated by law.” He had no reply, except to ask for my business card and said he would get back to me.

Similarly, I was in Vancouver a few months ago for the Land Rover Evoque launch and happened to share a table for lunch with the president of Land Rover Canada. Our conversation moved to biofuels and he gave me the usual top-ten list of all the bad things about ethanol (this is the list that was invented by the oil-gasoline industry to denigrate ethanol). I politely ran through the factual rebuttals. He didn’t have much to say, but it was clear that he was unhappy about being corrected (or perhaps just uncomfortable because the two of us were alone at the table and he had no company assistance in formulating a reply). In any event, he moved to the subject of compressed natural gas and recited a few of the rumored problems with using CNG. Since I own and regularly drive a CNG vehicle I was able to counter with my personal experience, which is completely contrary to what he had heard about CNG.

But that’s not all. Very recently AutoNation, America’s number one seller of new cars, held a “Future Fuels” symposium in South Florida that was moderated by their CEO, Mike Jackson. The 90-minute event took place at a university was broadcast live over the Internet (we carried it on TheAutoChannel.com, naturally). Mr. Jackson is a very popular and very knowledgeable car guy. He opened the session with a presentation about existing and potential vehicle propulsion systems and alternative fuel sources. While it would be incorrect for me to say that he got everything wrong, I will say that he got enough wrong so as to taint his entire presentation and make it seem like electric is the only viable alternative to gasoline or diesel. When you take into account that electric cars might only be significant in the second-half of this century, he basically said “You can use any fuel you want, as long as it’s gasoline or diesel and as long as we continue to make terrorist regimes rich.”

Obviously, my point is that if automobile executives, technology experts and media outlets don’t know the truth about biofuels, and continue to spread misinformation about the alternatives, then the public will never determine the future of fuels or powertrains outside of the most rudimentary of choices (Do you want a 4-cylinder or a 6-cylinder? Do you want regular 87 octane gasoline or mid-grade 89 octane gasoline?).

If our politicians are incapable of pushing themselves away from the bribes given to them by the oil-gasoline industry it would be nice if they were less complicit in creating roadblocks that prevent the public from being able to make better, more informed and much more economical buying decisions.

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