Why I Might Drive E85

Sammy G's picture

I don't drive E85 yet, but I likely will come May 2007. I want to start driving a car that runs on domestic, renewable fuel without compromising current levels of performance or convenience. The E85 looks like the best option available.

Most people would instinctively trumpet the electric hybrid as an option for achieving my goal. Right now I don't believe hybrids are the best option, and I’m not sure hybrids will be a permanent part of the automotive future. First, electric hybrids still run on imported oil. Regardless of the amount of 'barrels' saved per year, it’s still oil brought in from other countries. Second, in a move I will characterize as massive, the EPA recently switched its fuel economy tests to 'to better represent current driving styles and conditions': http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/ratings2008.shtml

I saw a report detailing this EPA test switch impacting hybrids at the largest negative mileage rate...30%!!! This means dealership lot stickers showcasing hybrid sedans at 40MPG are soon going to read 28MPG. While hybrid mileage will continue to be better than E85, hybrid drivers pay a premium sale price (mostly for the hybrid battery) much larger than fuel cost disparity for an E85.

While mentioning fuel price, some interesting things are happening in MN. Because of political motivations, and thanks to a $2.2B budget surplus, the Governor is pushing to quintuple the number of MN E85 stations over the next 2 years. Governor Pawlenty is considered a potential McCain VP 2008 running mate, and so I also surmise state-backed rebates and tax financing for E85s to manifest, similar to the large federal tax rebates made available for hybrid drivers. I base this on MN currently seeing the price of E85 fuel at 75% of the price of regular gas. Thus, MN is compensating for the disparity between E85 fuel mileage and regular gas mileage at the pump. Fuel cost is the same.

And where does that fuel come from? E85 is made from corn. Soon it's also going to be made from grass. That's stuff grown from the ground. In my backyard.

As an aside, the first airline (passenger or commercial) to successfully switch planes to E85 is going to be ridiculously popular.

The downside is that all E85 vehicles currently available for purchase in the U.S. are trucks. I'm not a truck guy. I'm not a 10MPG and $50-a-fill-up guy. Bring on the mid-sizes, please!

Does anybody have any advice? I'm wondering how people feel about their hybrids. Anybody out there driving a flex-fuel or E85?

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Sammy G's picture

Can't Fit The Auto Values

"Sammy G, whatever happened?..." you all are no doubt asking. It hasn't happened yet, but I wanted to give you the update.

With two months remaining until my Honda CR-V lease turn-in, I switched intent and pulled back from pursuing an E85 vehicle. I tried giving the E85 market a chance, but almost every flex-fuel offering is a big truck from GM. The idea of paying $35K sticker price plus $50/week for corn fuel just to thump my chest in proud, domestic auto allegiance doesn't make sense.

At this point I had to revisit and rev up my core ‘auto values’. I think everyone should do this because questioning your purchase rationale leads to discovery of what is and isn’t important. You may think this is weird, but when you walk into a dealership or auto show, you become enamored with bright chrome and extra features. When morphing into a giddy consumer, it’s important to be holding a printed list of your core auto values as a grounding agent. These are my core auto values:

  • Insurance-dependent steel boxes clunking down paved roads are a necessary, personal evil in my part of the world.
  • It’s silly to pay more money to satisfy image or status when the entire purpose of the steel box is reliable, safe transport between two terrestrial points.
  • I hate being low to the ground.
  • I hate how our country has entangled allegiance with foreign countries over oil to the point that our economy is dependent on them.
  • It better come with places for me to hook up my digital satellite radio or mp3 player, or I’ll be pissed.

I ended up fixating on the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid, with some attention veering over towards its 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling. Now, many of you readers are likely questioning, “You’re thinking about buying a Ford???" It seems illogical to buy a Ford based on the negative media rips. And their financial woes. And their penchant for spontaneously falling apart in the middle of the highway. However, Ford recently invested $100M in their Claycomo, MO plant to produce the updated Escape and Mariner, expecting 20% of its sales over the next 20 years to come from its small SUVs and crossovers. Meanwhile, Honda hasn’t come out with a hybrid for their CR-V.

Gas versions of the 4WD Escape (EPA-rated 23 MPG) start at $19,246, and the 4WD Escape Hybrid (EPA-rated 30 MPG) starts at $25,740. While the $25,740 hybrid price is an avg. decrease of $1,100 from the 2007 model, it’s a $6,500 out-the-lot difference from the 2008 gas version. Does anyone really want to pay 33% more for a car just so they can say they’re saving the environment by saving $500 in gas a year? There’s no way a combined federal and state tax rebate can make up for this sticker price difference.

I truly want to buy an E85 or Hybrid, but the market is making it hard for me to make this purchase, given my core auto values.

matthew's picture

My core auto values

My core auto values:
* Must get at least 40MPG highway in the summer @ 75MPH (a tough bill to fit; highway EPA MPG ratings are performed at 45-55MPH.)
* Seats must be comfortable.
* Must start reliably.
* Must have good safety and reliability ratings.
* Must have anti-lock brakes.
* Must be capable of 85+MPH.
* Must be a bright color. I've seen too many gray, black, and white autos hammered in the fog.
* Must be ULEV or SULEV. I care about smog, we get way too much of it in Salt Lake City due to the preponderance (IMHO) of SUVs.

That last bit has been negotiable, but I'm sick of how smoggy we get here in the winter. It's gotten much worse over the past 10 years as the population has doubled.

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Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Sammy G's picture

For Me, The CR-V

Last week I got a 2007 Honda CR-V EX. The whole ordeal took the entire day, and I ended up getting the same car with an updated and improved model for less monthly payment than paying previously.

The day out with me driving my expiring 2004 Honda CR-V to the Ford dealership and asking for their best offer on an Escape 4WD. Their best offer was to buy out my remaining lease and put me in a 2007 Escape for $500 down and $320 a month. Granted, this was a vehicle they were trying to move so the 2007 Escape was including a roof and audiophile features package. Given the 2007 Escape received poor marks (compared to the 2008 Escape) I drove the offer over to the Honda dealership and said to the lot lizard, "Beat this. Keep me a Honda driver today." For the 2007 Honda CR-V EX, an avg. 28 MPG vehicle compared to the 2007 Escape's avg. 20 MPG, I paid zero down for $327 a month. I worked a lease deal that locked the residual value at a decent rate, and then took 12K miles a year for 4 years.

Today, an article in the NYT put the Big 3 U.S. auto execs at the White House asking Bush to put the government behind flex-fuel.

Dear GM: I was all ready and geared up to go Ethanol with you, but your E85 vehicles are these huge trucks which cost $35K and guzzle the subsidized, tariff-protected Ethanol to the point at which I'm left in a much worse financial position than if I just bought a more fuel-efficient vehicle getting 30MPG on the highway. If I didn't care so much about the environment, I could have just bought a motorcycle. What are you all thinking in Detroit?

To my fellow Barnsonians, if you really care about decelerating dependence on international oil suppliers, and if you really care about battling global warming, then just move close to the city so you don't have to drive more than 35 miles a day. And get yourself a push mower.

Ben's picture

Love the CR-V

We're very happy with our CR-V. And I'm just waiting for my Camry to die so I can get a Prius to go with it. Can't afford to move any closer to the city (not until graduation, at least), so this is the best we can do in the meantime.

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Ben

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Ben

JB's picture

Nice Idea

Nice idea to move closer into the city (closer to work) - just not feasable. The cost of living is just too high to move into Northern VA. For now, I will have to drive my 2000 Intrepid into work as much as I can (so I don't need to drive the '03 Trailblazer).

The Wife and I have thought about trading the Intrepid in for a hybrid commuting car for me since my average daily commute is 65 miles / ea way. Just can't stomach the car payment while I finish payments on the Trailblazer. For now I will stick with the car pooling group i am with.

The dependance on foreign oil can be solved with a little Alaskan drilling. The downside is that it is not environmentally friendly. To every Ying there is a Yang.

Ben's picture

Alaskan Drilling

Alaskan Drilling is unnecessary. Our dependence on foreign oil could be virtually eliminated if we mandated higher fuel standards for the auto industry. If average MPG standards were raised by 25%, imagine how much fewer gas we would use as a country.

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Ben

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Ben

Timpane's picture

Likely

25% less

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JB's picture

Enforceable?

How enforcable is the 25%? The idea of mandating a manufacturer to create vehicles that require a 25% greater MPG is admirable. That will assist with the problem of vehicles made from this point forward. The problem still remains with the vehicles that are still on the road today. There is no way to insist that they have to perform in any kind of manner. This leads me to the dilema that i have now. I have a truck who is not extremely environmentally friendly (18 - 19 mpg avg). The unfortunate position that I am in now, is that i can not afford to upgrade to a more "eco-friendly" vehicle. On average a hybrid costs about twice what my truck ran me. I know on an average day of commuting I see vehicles that range from the latest and greatest to those who are held together by love and duct tape. My point in this is just because we raise emissions limits - It does not mean that there is a direct correlation to the improvement in green house effects. Will it help? Sure - Is it the "silver bullet" - highly unlikely.

I am interested in buying a hybrid to commute with - 30K is not in my near future.

matthew's picture

Quickest solution...

The quickest solution, in my opinion, is the addition of just one thing to every new car: an in-car, real-time miles-per-gallon meter. I have one in my Insight, and I am always aware of my fuel efficiency. I believe that if this were a mandatory addition to the dash of all new cars, it would radically change the driving habits of a sufficient number of people to achieve a large reduction in emissions.

In addition, in your average 15-20MPG vehicle, you can actually get a lot more than that that with fuel-efficient driving and a little technology and common sense:

1. Higher-voltage starter systems so that the car can completely shut off at stoplights and in stop-and-go traffic, and start up again reliably.
2. Warm-air intakes on the engine to improve economy in cold weather.
3. Low-rolling-resistance tires at high pressure as standard.

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Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Ben's picture

I'm not talking about hybrids

The auto industry has the technology to make standard internal combustion engines more efficient. They just don't want to use it because it cuts into their ridiculous profit margins. Average MPG has actually dropped since the early 70s.

Plus, I'm not saying this is an immediate solution. If we mandate an increase in all NEW cars, eventually those old gas-guzzlers will die out and be replaced by more fuel-efficient vehicles. We're the country that invented the automobile - if we can convince auto execs to get their heads out of the bottom line and start thinking about innovation, I have no doubt that they could work out a way to make GOOD, fuel-efficient, INEXPENSIVE vehicles, thereby holding onto market share and keeping away the Japanese by methods other than lay-offs.

As for hybrids, the Prius starts at $21K, and I'm sure the Insight is cheaper. For regular vehicles, the Toyota Yaris starts around $13K and gets around 40 mpg.

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Ben

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Ben

weed's picture

Not Really

Ben,

The problem with your idea is that the average mpg has risen steadily as car makers have made more efficient cars. The average mpg of cars BOUGHT had dropped, but that's because people want to buy big SUVs and trucks.

Car makers HAVE been offering more fuel efficient cars, but people haven't been buying them. Not until prices went so high did more people take mpg into consideration when buying a car.

I don't think there's a 70 mpg car out there that car manufactures are holding out on us, that just reeks of urban myth conspiracy theory hogwash. You don't think a smaller niche carmaker looking to steal some of the big boy's market would be offering that now if they could? You think big oil is buying off ALL the car manufacturers? You think someone who worked to develop that super-efficient engine wouldn't bolt to some other manufacturer and get paid beaucoup $$$ to share that info?

I think it's just more that people are going to buy big, comfortable cars until economics forces a change. And you cannot blame car manufacturers for selling people what they want to buy.

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

Sammy G's picture

The Days of CDs Are Over

This post doesn't truly belong in a blog thread about car purchasing, but it's because of my recent Honda CR-V purchase that I assert the days of CDs are over. Really, the days of all optical storage media are over for me, but the specific concept of music stored and played back on CDs is particularly obsolete.

One of the first things I noticed in the 2007 CR-V was an A/V jack placed right in the middle of the dashboard. Next to the jack was a spacious 'dash hole', big enough for a cell phone or mobile music player to conveniently stow. I realized those wacky engineers in Auto City were onto something! Today, I spend each morning repopulating my Sansa with the latest podcast downloads and music from my home computer/media center. The podcasts come from about 35 subscriptions. The music comes from a combination of personal stash as well as some web servers through which friends FTP-swap music and video (100% legal copies, of course). Granted, I'm not rich enough to install a video system in the car, but there's something cool about driving around town with my little Sansa screening 'Tron'.

The neat thing about having a detachable player is that I can walk the Sansa into the gym, attach headphones, and pick up listening right where I left off while I bench press 35 lbs.

Because my out-of-home media interaction is driven by a portable media player and because my in-home and in-office digital media interaction is driven by desktop and cable delivery, the days of CDs are over. The days of DVD are pretty much over for me as well. While the concept of sneakernet still lives (for now!), an actual product called Sneakernet is coming soon. This is a media-enabled flash drive with a small dock for connecting to any TV via S-video or composite AV connections, which are standard on modern televisions. I'll be walking that baby from the desktop right over to the flat-screen.

Meanwhile, it's only until my next pay increase until I buy a Slingbox...

Timpane's picture

Que Es

Slingbox?
I've been runing my TVs on Extenders wirelessly connected to my Media Center computer. I love it.. but the pesky extenders won't play DVDs ripped to that computer (I ONLY rip the ones I own) - the main computer plays them fine! I am trying to convert my DVDs to a totally "on demand" experience.. but yet to find a way.

Visit the Official Justin Timpane Website
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www.timpane.com

NVZ: NINJAS VS ZOMBIES - THE MOVIE - www.nvzmovie.com
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matthew's picture

Slingbox

Slingbox converts your TV signal to a digital TV feed viewable over the Internet. You can play what's playing on your receiver on many handheld devices and other computers. Imagine it as a remote control and a remote screen and sound system for your TV, and you're not far wrong.

If you have a Tivo with two outputs (one Tivo and one live), you can just watch the one Slingbox feed so someone watching the Tivo-side (recorded stuff) is unaffected. The Slingbox is also a sort of universal-programmable-remote so that it can control all of your accessories from a handheld on the other side of the world.

Downside: The quality isn't as good as live TV due to the compression algorithms used. On a local LAN in your house, it's quite good, but on a tiny Palm PDA screen over a DSL line, not quite so much.

Yes, I have used one. My buddy Paul owns one, and we used it to watch the Superbowl at my house (we don't have cable and have never bothered to hook up broadcast TV) while he was watching it at his. Nifty.

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Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson