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The Expanding E85 Fleet of General Motors

The E85 movement, which is based on an alternate fuel consisting of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, is getting an additional boost thanks to a recent decision by General Motors to expand its existing line up from 9 models to 14. This increase will mean that General Motors, which already has nearly 2 million E85 vehicles on the road, will be able to produce as many as 400,000 E85 vehicles per year. For proponents of alternate fuel sources, the decision by General Motors is certainly a welcome one. Let’s take a look at GM’s expanding E85 fleet and what this could mean for you, the fuel conscious motorist. E85 has been around for well over a decade now, but has only recently has it been the focus of such widespread attention. Credit gas prices exceeding $3 per gallon for interest in E85 and you can see why General Motors is continuing to expand its line up to meet the demand for alternate fuel sources.

The Current Line Up GM’s current fleet of E85 vehicles now numbers nine. GM’s Silverado, Tahoe, Impala, Monte Carlo, Avalanche, Sierra, Suburban, Yukon, and Yukon XL currently make up the entire fleet of E85 capable vehicles produced by the automaker. The bulk of GM’s E85 sales have come since 2000, however the automaker had been building E85 capable vehicles for many years prior to the turn of the millennium. DaimlerChrysler and Ford also build tens of thousands of E85 vehicles per year. Expanding on the Theme General Motors is planning to add five new models for 2007 including the Chevrolet Uplander, its crossover van offering.

Other models have yet to be named, but they will likely include similar sized vehicles. Shortages Persist/Limited Availability While E85’s appeal remains strong, limited pump availability and fuel shortages have put a strain on the market. Most of the ethanol currently used is derived from corn a readily available food and fuel source in the U. However, refineries and pump availability is limited outside of the Midwest, making E85 totally unavailable in some areas. With GM’s help, new stations and increased capacity are coming online. Fortunately, if E85 is not available in a particular area, each vehicle can still run on straight gasoline. Fuel Economy and Performance Another area that must be acknowledged is overall fuel economy. While ethanol does produce a nice boost in overall performance, it does impact fuel mileage reducing it by 25-30% on some models. When E85 prices are 50 or 60 cents lower than gasoline, this is not a problem.

However, with E85 demand being high, prices are only 5 or 10 cents lower in most areas. Certainly, consumers could find themselves paying even more overall for fuel by electing to go with E85 at various times. A Cleaner Environment Beyond price and fuel economy, there is one huge benefit to using E85: harmful pollutants are greatly reduced. With only a small percentage of gasoline consumed compared to straight gasoline or diesel fuel, greenhouse gas emissions drop significantly which is clearly better for the environment. A Temporary Fix or a Wave to be Ridden? Finally, E85 may be considered only a temporary fix especially if other forms of fuel efficient vehicles catch on. Hybrids remain an attractive alternative for some, biodiesel is growing in strength, and hydrogen powered cars are only a few years away. Still, E85 is more then a fad, but it does need some government intervention in order to succeed. Whether the federal government does intervene remains to be seen, but if consumer sentiment continues to rise, that may all become a moot point.


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