If you’re in the market for a new car, you’ve likely discovered that new car fuel choices are no longer a simple matter of leaded versus unleaded or diesel fuel versus gas. Today’s cars now run on electricity, gas, diesel, and biofuels such as ethanol. In addition, hybrids and “FlexFuel” cars use a combination of energy sources. But what exactly are these new Flexible Fuel Vehicles and do they make sense for you?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) are cars designed to run on gasoline or a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol, or E85. FFVs aren’t new. In fact, they’ve been on the road since the 1980s. Unlike some alternative fuel vehicles such as the egg-shaped Prius, Flexible Fuel Vehicles don’t look any different than regular gas powered cars. Your older car may even be an FFV! Check the label on the fuel filler door or your owner’s manual to find out.


Today, Ford has embraced flexible fuels with many Ford cars and trucks proudly displaying the FlexFuel badge including the following 2010 models: Ford F-150, Ford Fusion, Ford Econoline, Ford Escape, Ford Expedition, Mercury Milan, Mercury Mariner, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car and Lincoln Navigator.


Pete Hardigan, Ford’s Manager of Environmental Policy, explains “Ford has been a leader in providing biofuel vehicles and has placed more than 5 million E85 capable vehicles on the road globally. In the U.S., over the last two years alone Ford has introduced more than 550,000 FFVs.”



Flexible Fuel Vehicle Convenience

Ford’s FlexFuel vehicles are designed to operate on gasoline, E85, or any combination of these two fuel types. Hardigan says that there is no need to drive your vehicle until you have a nearly empty tank before switching fuels. In addition, there are no specific engine maintenance steps other than the normal maintenance outlined in the car’s owner’s manual.


Flexible Fuel Vehicle Fuel Economy

But what about the oh-so-important question of fuel economy? Hardigan says, “There is less energy in a gallon of ethanol than a gallon of gasoline, so the distance traveled on a gallon of ethanol will be less than on a gallon of gasoline; however, ethanol is typically less expensive than gasoline. Currently E85 costs approximately 40-80 cents less per gallon than regular gasoline.”


Hardigan adds that flexible fuel vehicles have an advantage in that they provide customers with fuel choice – the ability to choose the fuel that provides the most value. For example, if ethanol prices are low enough, a consumer can switch to E85 and come out ahead financially despite the lower miles per gallon. Likewise, if E85 prices are higher than gas prices, consumers can choose to run their FlexFuel cars or trucks on gas.


“Additionally, by offering an alternative to gasoline, prices for both ethanol and gasoline are lowered through competition,” Hardigan says. “In 2010, ethanol is expected to make up more than 8% of the light-duty vehicle fuel pool, providing more fuel than the oil imported from Iraq. Ethanol is an alternative to imported oil and a step toward energy independence, particularly once advanced cellulosic ethanol becomes viable.”


Finding E85 Fuel for Flexible Fuel Vehicles

While FFVs offer consumers fuel choice, finding E85 outside the Midwest where ethanol is produced has been problematic. For example, according to E85Prices.com, there are just three E85 fueling stations in San Diego and less than 50 in all of car-loving California.


Hardigan explains that this could change soon. “Last year, the United States added approximately 200 E85 fuel stations bringing the total to slightly more than 1.2% of all stations nationwide.” He says that Underwriters Laboratory testing of E85 refueling pumps has delayed E85 expansion, but that the testing is expected to be completed in mid-2010. “Additionally, DOE (Department of Energy) has recently made several awards to expand ethanol infrastructure, so availability is expected to improve.”


In the meantime, Hardigan suggests that FlexFuel owners use E85 Web sites to find E85 fueling stations close to home. Many Web sites list current E85 prices and locations as well as offer widgets and calculators. If you drive a Flexible Fuel Vehicle, find out where E85 stations are located in your community and use the online calculators to determine at which price point to switch fuels. The choice is yours!


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Sources:

Fueleconomy.gov/feg/flextech.shtml

March 2010 interview with Pete Hardigan, Ford’s Manager of Environmental Policy


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Optional Summary:

Have you noticed the "FlexFuel" badges on the newer Fords? These cars can run on gasoline or biofuels - or a blend of both. Pete Hardigan, Ford's Manager of Environmental Policy, discusses these vehicles and the advantages offered to consumers.