Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Here's a new twist: Cars without gas caps

Thursday, August 10, 2006
Here's a new twist: Cars without gas caps
Bryce G. Hoffman and David Shepardson / The Detroit News

TRAVERSE CITY -- The hot technology topic at this year's auto industry confab in Traverse City is not a cool innovation like adaptive cruise control or iPod integration.

No, it's gas caps.

General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group plan to add bright yellow ones to cars and trucks that can run on E85 -- a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline -- to build consumer awareness of the alternative fuel.

Ford Motor Co. plans to get rid of gas caps altogether, replacing them with a capless system that the automaker says is easier to use and easier on the environment.

Ford's capless fuel filler is already featured on its high-end Ford GT sports car. It will be standard on the new Lincoln MKS sedan, scheduled to hit showrooms in 2008, and migrate to other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models.

"It eliminates the inconvenience of forgetting to put your gas cap back on after refueling," Mark Fields, president of Ford's Americas group said Wednesday at the Management Briefing Seminars. "It's also better for the environment because no gas fumes escape. It's the direct result of listening to our customers."

GM and Chrysler want to start talking to their customers about ethanol and have decided the best way to do it is by installing bright yellow fuel caps on all of their so-called "flex-fuel" cars and trucks -- vehicles capable of running on gasoline, E85 or a mixture of both.

GM already has more than 2 million E85-capable vehicles on the road, but many consumers may not know they can use the corn-based fuel alternative.

Next week, GM will announce plans to notify owners of flexible-fuel models that they can get the yellow caps or a special badge, or both, depending on the model year, to identify their vehicles as flex-fuel models, said GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss. GM did not promote the E85 capabilities of its flex-fuel vehicles before because gas was still relatively cheap and ethanol hard to find. Even now, E85 is only available at about 800 of the nation's 180,000 gas stations, including 16 already open or soon to open in Michigan.

Next year, Chrysler will start installing the same yellow caps on its flex-fuel vehicles.

"(It) lets consumers know at a glance that their vehicle is flex-fuel capable," said Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Eric Ridenour. He said Chrysler and GM will jointly purchase the caps from the same supplier to take advantage of volume price discounts.

Chrysler will also start adding flex-fuel badges to all E85-compatible 2007 models. Ridenour said that 10 percent of all Chrysler Group vehicles produced over the past eight years are flex-fuel capable.

"Ethanol-based fuels like E85 are a part of a viable, long-term strategy for our nation's energy security," Ridenour said. "If all the flex-fuel vehicles on the road in 2008 run on E85, our country would save 4.5 billion gallons of petroleum annually -- roughly one-third the amount of oil we import from Iraq each year."

You can reach Bryce Hoffman at (313) 222-2443 or

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