Why do we think high-octane fuel is only for luxury cars?

There are more than 210 million licensed drivers in the United States, and I’ll venture a guess that the vast majority of them fill their tanks with the old standby, 87 octane unleaded gasoline. What if they knew that, one day, they too might be using premium gas — 91 octane and higher — without paying a premium price?

All drivers should have access to high-octane fuels, because their attributes — enhanced fuel efficiency, reduced smog and greenhouse gas emissions — can help every American.

Wider availability of high-octane fuels might not be a (tail)pipe dream. Automakers are busy building the engines of the future, but the bargain-basement 87-octane fuel we’re all stuck with won’t cut it: Those high-tech engines need a higher octane rating to maximize efficiency and achieve those health and environmental benefits.

The future is coming along faster than any of us realizes: This year two federal agencies and the California Air Resources Board will kick-start the process of reviewing the CAFE standards, under which every vehicle sold in the U.S. must average 54.5 mpg by 2025.

“We’re beginning to realize that octane of the fuel is a key limitation on further increases in fuel economy to meet these requirements,” Ford engineer Tom Leone said during the National Ethanol Conference in New Orleans in February. The conference focused on the potential of high-octane fuels.

For vehicles not optimized to burn higher-octane fuel blends — that’s most of us — boosting the octane levels could produce a 2-5 percent increase in torque and power, Leone said. In vehicles for which the manufacturer specifically recommends premium fuel, the increase could be 10 percent or more.

Ethanol is a natural octane-booster, and if more of it were blended into the nation’s gasoline supply, 91 octane might become the standard. Then the undemocratic term “premium fuel” would disappear from the lexicon.

“We want to sell cars that everyone can afford, with technologies that improve fuel economy and CO2 for everyone,” Leone said. “And we can’t expect our customers to pay a premium price for that special fuel. So we’re really looking forward to a future where higher octane fuel is widely available, it becomes the new standard, it’s reasonably priced for everyone.”

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3 replies
    • Landon Hall
      Landon Hall says:

      Thanks for the comment, George. But I don’t understand your point. Purchasing E85 is not compulsory. It’s available at about 2,600 gas stations nationwide, or about 1.7 percent of the overall 157,000 stations. Its use is voluntary. It’s not approved for motorcycles and should not be used. Knowing that, why do you want to prevent owners of flex-fuel vehicles from using it?

  1. Marc J. Rauch
    Marc J. Rauch says:

    Good story, Landon. Higher ethanol blends is the future for automakers to meet emissions standards and to keep engine performance high. The transition will surprise lots of people, including all the oil industry media shills who know nothing about this issue outside of what they are told to write and talk about.

    But the best news about this point is the announcement that Jaguar land Rover is building their first manufacturing plant outside of the UK in Brazil. Brazil’s mandated “gasoline” is E27. While it’s true that Jaguar and Land Rover have sold lots of vehicles in Brazil in the past, the commitment to build a factory there underscores the fact that ethanol-gasoline fuels in excess of E10 is not harmful to modern vehicles (early 1990’s and later). The new Jaguar Land Rover vehicles will have to use the same mandated E27 and they will be manufactured exactly as they are for the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, etc.

    What’s more, while many in the marine industry either pretend or deluded into thinking that E10 and higher blends are bad for boat engines all they need do is look to Brazil where most of the North American engines they use in their boats were manufactured identical to those engines used in the U.S., Canada, Europe, etc. Yet, in Brazil they must run on the mandated high ethanol-gasoline blends without any problem.

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