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MotorWeek Video Transcript: E85 Availability

John Davis: Renewable fuels and efficient technology are the keys to a driving future that is free from petroleum. But there is no one fuel right now that can fully displace our use of oil. In 2003, we looked at a grass-roots effort to promote E85 ethanol fuel in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Since then E85 has gained a meaningful foothold, and is now enjoying a prominent role in our national energy debate.

When we first told the “Tale of Two Clean Cities” in 2003, Minnesota had just 75 stations offering E85 fuel to the public, and that was up from just two in 1998.

Since then, local promotions and countless one-on-one sales pitches from Minnesota Clean Cities coordinator Tim Gerlach and his team have increased awareness and demand for E85 to the point that now over 200 E85 stations cover the State. And the campaign for E85 has taken on a life of its own.

Tim Gerlach: “Well, I think we’ve had to evolve with the program, as it has grown. There is no way that we can show up at every station and do an E85 promotion with every station, with every dealership every week. We find ourselves helping other people do it, or teaching other people how to go out and ‘do the mission’ if you will..

John Davis: And increasingly, the E85 battle cry is being taken up by carmakers. Ford has begun an E85 awareness campaign in the Midwest, and has shown a flex-fuel Escape Hybrid concept.

And Chrysler has announced they plan to sell half a million FFV’s by 2008, and will add the Jeep Commander and Grand Cherokee to their flex-fuel lineup in 2007.

General Motors has taken a more ambitious approach with its nation wide ‘Live Green, Go Yellow” E85 campaign.

John Gaydash: “What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to educate the public so that they understand that there is at least a partial solution available today to reduce our dependence on oil, to use a renewable fuel, which is E85, but at the same time, we’re trying to make sure that the infrastructure gets developed to the next level.”

John Davis: And to aid in recognizing the over 400,000 flex-fuel vehicles they build each year, GM will now equip them with bright yellow gas caps, as a constant visual reminder for drivers to use E85 whenever possible.

Not surprisingly, progressive car dealers are realizing the benefit of E85 as a sales tool.

Tim Gerlach: “We used to have to go to car dealers and beg them to talk to us... And all the time we were trying to tell them that this is a marketing tool, a way they can sell their vehicles that gives the consumer a choice.”

“I think we see a lot of the local dealers that understand what it means to their community, they have corn growers, they have an ethanol plant, they see what the price of gasoline is and what it does to their community, this a fuel that’s made right there, in their home.”

John Davis: Just as the drive to increase awareness of E85 fuel has moved to the next level, so has the production of ethanol. There are nearly 130 ethanol plants in the US, with an annual production capacity of 4 to 6 billion gallons of ethanol per year.

Tim Gerlach: “Now to the South of us, in Iowa...I think ultimately they will have 21 or 22 plants, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, other States are coming online as well, so the amount of ethanol in the market is increasing considerably.”

John Davis: There are now over 600 E85 stations in the US, but a full two-thirds of those are concentrated in the Upper Midwest, because frankly, that’s where the corn is.

While ethanol is already a common additive to gasoline to boost octane and lower emissions, for E85 to replace gasoline nationwide, we must investigate more efficient ways to produce it to make it truly economically feasible.

Fortunately, our nation’s leaders agree: President Bush is pushing for research into ethanol produced from cellulose plant materials. These are materials like grasses and woody plants that could produce ethanol in addition to corn.

President George W. Bush: (2006 State of the Union) “Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within 6 years..(applause) By applying the talents and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”

John Davis: And in New York, Governor George Pataki has proposed major tax incentives for ethanol producers and for buyers of flex-fuel vehicles. If such policies take root there, many East Coast states could follow suit.

Brazil’s all-out commitment to sugar-cane ethanol in the past three decades has made that country’s drivers nearly independent from imported petroleum.

In the US, though, demand for petroleum far outpaces ethanol production capacity, and resolving nationwide E85 delivery problems still remains a priority.

Still, ethanol and E85 are making a tangible difference now, and hold the promise of even greater rewards for our motoring future.