GM Confirms First Gen Volt Will Not Support E85 Ethanol

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This morning I wrote a piece about how GM is lamenting the lack of E85 fueling stations in the United States. But the other interesting tidbit of information in there was a simple statement by GM’s Tony Posawat that the generator in the upcoming Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle would not support E85 (85% ethanol/15% gasoline) initially.

This came as a shock to me, especially considering that of all the car makers, GM has invested the most time and resources to make a huge portion of their vehicles flex-fuel E85 capable. It was also quite a strange statement because as recently as last October GM was proudly touting the fact that their Flint, MI, assembly plant would be building the Volt’s “flex-fuel 1.4 liter” engine.

I couldn’t accept the announcement at face value, so I decided to contact not one, not two, but three GM representatives to hear for myself that GM would not support E85 in the Volt initially.

As it turns out, it’s true. And I’m bummed.

But as it also turns out, GM’s decision is based on a thorough market analysis and, begrudgingly, makes some amount of sense. According to Alan Adler, GM News Relations and Communications, “Flex-fuel availability for the Volt at launch has been delayed. Our decision is based in part on the Volt rollout plan to California, Washington, DC, and Michigan. Of the three launch markets, only Michigan has any significant availability of E85 ethanol. California has a handful of stations, most in the Sacramento area; DC may have one or two; Michigan has more than 60.”

He also added that “right now the price of E85 vs. gasoline is uncompetitive.”

While I understand the reasoning, it seems to me that the people who will be buying this car initially are the types that are very well educated on these things and are forward thinking. You know, the types that, even though they may not have access to E85 right now, are excited about the prospects of using it say 5 years down the road. It’s not that the early adopters are only going to have the car for 1 year and then give it up… especially not when they’ve invested so much money in it.

So the lack of E85 support could be a deal breaker for some early adopters. Nevertheless, those folks can just wait a year until the E85 support is added in, I’m sure there will be plenty of others to step in and fill the early demand.

According to Rob Peterson, another GM communications specialist, GM has calculated that most Volt owners will only use the range extending engine once in a blue moon—with almost all of their time spent driving as a pure EV; therefore it really doesn’t matter what type of fuel they use because they will be using so little of it. And, with roughly only 8,000 Volts planned to be sold the first year, the impact from the lack of E85 support during that year will be minimal.

None of this will affect the scheduled production of the Volt’s engine at the Flint Engine South facility, said Tom Wickham, a communications specialist for the Flint facility. From an engineering perspective, it seems that it wouldn’t be that hard to add the E85 support in later—potentially just a few tubes and some upgraded software. When asked about the prospect of early adopters getting E85 support after the first year, Wickham and Peterson were both unable to answer directly, but said they would get back to me as that would likely be a question that their customers would ask.

Does the initial lack of E85 support in the Volt bum you out? Or is it completely unimportant?

 

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.