Ford Doubles E85-Capable Vehicles in Lineup; Will Consumers Care?

E-85 -- an 85-percent blend of ethanol and gasoline -- has yet to find widespread acceptance with American customers, but that hasn't stopped Ford from living up to a 2006 promise to double the number of flex-fuel capable vehicles in its lineup.

Currently, Ford offers eleven vehicles capable of running on E-85, including the Escape, Fusion, F-150, Crown Victoria, Expedition, E-Series vans, Lincoln Navigator, Town Car, the Mercury Milan, Grand Marquis, and Mariner. It should be noted, however, that the Crown Victoria is currently offered only to fleet customers, and will soon be departing the lineup altogether along with the Grand Marquis and Town Car.

Although automakers like to tout the advantages of E-85 (specifically, it seems, its potential to curb our intake of foreign oil), it hasn’t quite found widespread acceptance with consumers. One reason lies with a lack of a widespread fueling infrastructure. According to E-85prices.com, only 2287 of the nation’s 168,000 gas stations offer the ethanol blend. Consumers won't necessarily see a cost savings by running the fuel, either. Ethanol blends typically carry less energy per gallon than gasoline, and the vehicle's fuel economy subsequently suffers. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates running Ford’s E-85-capable vehicles on the biofuel will cost between $200 and $600 more each year. In addition, there are concerns about the potential negative impact producing corn-based E-85 on a massive scale would have on the nation's food and water supply. Emissions, however, are one advantage to running of E-85. Burning the corn-based alcohol can help curb both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. According to the EPA, a flex-fuel Escape FWD will emit 8.9 tons of CO2 when driving 15,000 miles a year, with 55-percent of that total performed in cities. By comparison, the same Escape produces only 6.6 tons of CO2 when burning E-85. A compelling argument, perhaps, but until the E-85 fueling network expands beyond its present point, we doubt consumers will notice. Heck, it’s entirely possible they haven’t even noticed their vehicles’ E-85 capability. Automakers continue to add E-85 capability to vehicles as standard equipment to improve their green image, not because consumers are demanding the feature. In fact, General Motors once found that while roughly 70 percent of consumers who owned flex-fuel vehicles were aware of the feature -- only 10 percent of that number actually ran ethanol in the vehicle. Source: Ford, FuelEconomy.gov, E-85Prices.com, AAA Fuel Gauge Report

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