The California methanol experiments were among the most extensive in the nation. M85 gas pumps were installed in a handful of stations, and fleets of conventional gas vehicles were converted to run on high methanol blends. The performance of the methanol vehicles was as good or better than comparable gasoline models, although methanol eventually proved to be more corrosive than gasoline, requiring certain engine adaptations. (Since the passage of the Clean Air Act and the regulation of evaporation emissions, fuel systems now are protected from water exposure, which is the source of methanol’s corrosiveness.) The methanol-only vehicles failed to catch on, largely because too few pumps existed, but the project prompted further tests of “flex-fuel” vehicles that could run on both gas and methanol.
The flex-fuel project was more successful. Retail gas stations agreed to install more M85 pumps, and hundreds of flex-fuel Escorts, Tauruses and Crown Victoria LTDs were built and tested by the state. Government fleets and Los Angeles County buses were flex-fuel, and Ford, Chrysler and General Motors began selling production flex-fuel sedans, mostly for car rentals, in the early 1990s. At their peak in 1997, more than 21,000 M85 flex-fuel vehicles were on the road, 15,000 of them in California, which by now had more than 100 public and private flex-fuel fueling stations.