Automakers shouldn’t stop at electrification

It seems like every week another major automaker announces it will “electrify” its vehicle lineup. In just the past few months, Mercedez-Benz, Ford, Audi, Maserati, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Lincoln, Volkswagen, GM, Aston Martin, and more have committed to electrification by adding more electric vehicle (EV) options to their fleet. If that’s not momentum for an alternative fuel, we don’t know what is.

What makes these announcements particularly intriguing is that many of the automakers are following the electrification model of Volvo (which started the trend in 2015). They’re not just offering a few brand-new vehicles that run solely on electricity. They’re building plug-in hybrid models that can use both gasoline and electricity, and hyper-efficient models that run solely on gasoline but utilize an electric motor to improve fuel economy.

However, we don’t believe automakers should stop there. As great as electric vehicles are, they’re not the only alternative to gasoline/diesel vehicles. There are 22 million flex-fuel vehicles that can run on both ethanol and gasoline. And, as shown in PUMP the Movie, there’s very little (if any) effort required for automakers to ensure that all their vehicles are flex-fuel. In addition to “electrifying” their fleets, we’d love to see automakers “flexing” their vehicles and giving you more choice in both the fuels and the cars you love to drive.

Combining flex-fuel technology with electrification could provide the best of two worlds, with you as the clearest winner: Want an SUV with reduced fuel costs for your daily commute, but also with enough power and range to tow a boat to the lake on the weekends? You got it. Want better fuel economy for your truck without sacrificing power and range? You’re covered. Always wanted a sports car but couldn’t justify the emissions and fuel costs? You have that option too.

This means that people who may not be ready to take the leap to a fully electric or biofuel-only capable vehicle can be brought into the fold and join the alternative fuel revolution. Assuring people that they’ll never suffer from “range anxiety” could go a long way toward increasing the number of alternative fuel vehicles on the road.

Like we said when the Chevy Volt (a plug-in hybrid) won Green Car of the Year back in 2016, to truly reach its full green potential it should also have flex-fuel compatibility. Imagine consumers having the ability to choose between not just two, but three fuels (gasoline, electricity and ethanol). Now that would be fuel choice.


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6 replies
  1. Paul Schlueter
    Paul Schlueter says:

    Many thousands of people have been asking for this for several years now. I can’t understand why the auto makers refuse to give this to us. The Chevy Volt was originally designed to be a FlexFuel-Plug-In-Hybrid, but then GM reneged. I would have bought a Chevy Volt 4 years ago if GM had kept the FlexFuel capability but because they did not, I bought a Nissan Leaf instead and kept my 2010 Buick Lucerne FlexFuel as a backup car. I keep the Buick tank full of E85, keep the battery charged, tires full, and drive it maybe 4 times a year. My wife and I now have 2 Nissan Leafs that we drive for over 95% of our daily needs. I would sell the Buick and 1 of the Leafs Tomorrow to buy a FlexFuel-Plug-In-Hybrid if such a car existed.

  2. BC Shelby
    BC Shelby says:

    …pure ethanol has a few downsides For one it is about 1/3 less efficient than petrol, meaning you get less range per tank full. It has issues with starting in cold weather (52F and below) due to the inability to achieve proper vapour pressure for ignition. While low on the carbon scale it is produces a much higher level of atmospheric Formaldehyde and Acetaldehyde. It also produces more ozone, one of the principal components of photochemical smog, which can aggravate conditions like Asthma.

    • Nathan Taft
      Nathan Taft says:

      I think you’re confusing efficiency with energy content. In a properly optimized engine ethanol is far more efficient than petrol, due its higher octane rating. More of the energy in the fuel goes to powering the car.
      As far as cold start, we’re not necessarily advocating 100% ethanol, but rather flex-fuel vehicles that can run on blends of gasoline and ethanol.
      And in regards to emissions, I’ve seen some research suggesting increased levels formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and ozone, but that’s more than made up for by its lower emissions of carbon and other criteria pollutants like NOx.

  3. Charles alban
    Charles alban says:

    re cold start and so on. That’s all been dealt with. All cars and diesel-engined vehicles can run on E-100 ethanol in Brazil. Flex-fuel vehicles enrich the mixture for starting.

    Blume Distillation is presently running a test with the diesel buses of the Watsonville school district in California to run them on E-95. The ethanol requires a small amount of a cetane enhancer additive, which includes a lubricant, but no engine modifications are required. This is commonly done in Brazil.

    This could solve all the diesel problems in many major cities. Several cities in Europe banned diesel-engined cars during smog episodes this summer. It’s not the engines that are the problem…it’s the dirty petro-diesel fuel. Run them on clean-burning bio- ethanol and most of the problems are solved. This would also solve the VW dieselgate issue. Just get rid of the petro-diesel and substitute ethanol.

    Much more ethanol could be made than currently. There is a huge amount of food waste being landfilled that could be converted to ethanol. Italy alone dumps 5 million tons of food and crop waste annually that could be utilized. Germany in WW2 had 17 000 ethanol distilleries that powered the entire German military. No reason why that couldn’t be done again.

    Engines that are optimized for ethanol are much more efficient than either gasoline or diesel engines. The experimental Ricardo 3.2 liter spark-ignition engine produced more torque and power than the 6.6 liter Duramax diesel engine, with better fuel economy and much lower emissions.

    The idea that we can convert the entire vehicle fleet to electric is nonsense. The battery in the Tesla contains 8 kg of cobalt, at $60 per kg, dug out of the ground by child labor in the Congo. No way this is sustainable.

  4. Paul Schlueter
    Paul Schlueter says:

    I seem to remember reading that one person smoking a pack of cigarettes produces more formaldehyde than a car burning ethanol for an average daily commute.

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