Friday, May 26, 2006

GM believes ethanol can become mainstream fuel

E85 Alive
GM believes ethanol can become mainstream fuel despite hurdles


AutoWeek Published 05/23/06, 2:48 pm et

Because of its heavy dependence on sales of big trucks, General Motors has the most to lose if high fuel prices lead buyers to other vehicles. This year GM has been trying to raise awareness of E85 ethanol and other alternative fuels.

Elizabeth Lowery, 50, GM vice president of environment and energy policies worldwide, spoke with Automotive News Staff Reporter Richard Truett last month at the New York auto show.

What chance does E85 have of becoming a mainstream fuel?

I think it has a great chance. We've been building consumer awareness since January with the "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign. So far, consumers are very interested.

And then we have a number of projects in various states to see if we can help bring parties together to figure out how to build the infrastructure. We have a project in California with Pacific Ethanol and Chevron Technologies, California and GM working together to figure out what the infrastructure should look like in California. That project is well under way. The state is buying flex-fuel vehicles so that they can force some of the infrastructure, at least for fleet sales.

We also have projects in Minnesota and Chicago.

There are only about 600 filling stations in the country that sell E85. How are drivers going to know where to buy it?

OnStar has the information when a station goes online. When you press the OnStar button when you are traveling, you can find out where to get E85 fuel. I think that is a huge competitive advantage and creates demand for that infrastructure. It also gives those that are putting in the pumps some incentives, because General Motors and its customers really are going to help get customers to use E85.

Why does GM care what fuels people put in their vehicles?

We do care, because we think we do have a role to play. Our view is we are the provider of transportation, and the fuel is an integral part of that. We really do care what consumers put in the vehicle, not only for a societal benefit but also because of the performance of the vehicle. People are very interested in greenhouse-gas emissions. People are interested in energy independence and the price of fuel.

I think the most important thing is that customers have shown a great interest in choice. So if they can have the flexibility to buy a product, and they can use E85 or gasoline depending on its availability or depending on the pricing, they like having some control over that. Right now people don't feel as if they have a choice.

Why not get together with other automakers and build an E85 infrastructure?

Right now GM, Ford and DCX have the most vehicles out there that use E85. So we do have conversations with them, and they have projects out there as well. We are just getting pretty aggressive with the marketing campaign because we think it is a leadership issue. We all have something to contribute, so we are all playing roles, and there is no reason we can't work together on projects.

What prospects are there for biodiesel? Will GM push biodiesel the same way it has E85?

We think biodiesel has a role to play along with E85 and ethanol and other renewable fuels. There is a lot of research and experimentation going on with biodiesel. Right now I can't say we have any huge campaign under way or that we are thinking about one. We certainly are working at the research level, and our vehicles are capable of working on (biodiesel).

Another fuel GM is interested in is hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. Does helping popularize E85 and biodiesel offer any lessons for later when hydrogen is ready for prime time?

We've learned a lot on infrastructure development. We have a study under way on how the hydrogen economy can be developed and what kind of infrastructure changes will be needed. We've always believed that you don't need a hydrogen station on every corner. We have learned from E85 how some of this will naturally occur. Some of it has to be driven by people coming together to figure out the best way to do it. A hydrogen infrastructure will be a challenge.


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