J.D. Power and Associates regularly sends out updates on how vehicle sales are doing in Canada. And like forecasting companies across Canada and the U.S., it reports on how many "flexible-fuel" vehicles - those that can use E85, a fuel that's primarily made up of plant-based ethanol - are sold.
Last year, for example, sales of flex-fuel vehicles increased almost twofold, to 13.2 percent of the market. And I say, so what?
The number of hybrids sold is an important indicator of how consumers are looking at alternative vehicles. (For the record, hybrid sales dropped, concurrent with stabilized gas prices - backing up what I've always said, that for most people it's about cash, not climate change.) The number of flex-fuel vehicles sold means nothing, and I hope that people aren't looking at those sales numbers and thinking that the tide is turning.
The fact is, any vehicle on the market that will run on E85 fuel will also run on gasoline; it just means that it has special seals and pumps that the ethanol can't corrode. That 13.2 percent didn't buy the car because it ran on E85, but because the car met their needs and it just happened to have the yellow fuel-filler cap. And almost every one of those vehicles will run exclusively on gasoline, because in most places in Canada, it's impossible to find a station that dispenses E85. I think there are a handful in all of Ontario. According to Petro-Canada's website, that gasoline giant doesn't even carry it.
At least the ecoAuto program is over - the one that gave rebates to fuel-efficient vehicles, including flexible fuel models. You could get $1,000 back from the feds if you bought a vehicle that could run on E85, because you were saving the planet, at least in theory. I wonder if any car that qualified for the rebate has ever had a drop of E85 run through its guts.
Sure, it's chicken-and-egg - you don't get E85 without the cars, and you don't get the cars without E85. But don't tell me that sales of flex-fuel vehicles are rising, because it means squat. Tell me when there's a possibility I might be able to put some of this corn-based fluid into its tank. That is when the numbers will actually make a difference.