U.S. consumers are ill-prepared for the introduction of higher ethanol fuel blends, based on the results of a new online survey conducted by Harris Interactive (News - Alert) on behalf of the Alexandria, Va.-based Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), a trade association representing 100 small-engine, utility vehicle and outdoor power equipment manufacturers and suppliers.
The study, conducted on behalf of OPEI from July 31 through Aug. 2, asked 2,040 adults ages 18 and older about their fuel buying behavior and fuel awareness at gas stations.
Among the highlights, the vast majority of Americans (71 percent) are “not at all sure” if it is illegal or legal to put high level ethanol gas (i.e., anything higher than 10 percent ethanol) into engines such as those in boats, mowers, chain saws, snow mobiles, generators and other engine products.
What’s more, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say they assume that any gas sold at the gas station is safe for all of their cars, as well as boats, mowers, chain saws, snow mobiles, generators and other engine products.
Photo above courtesy of Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI).
Misgivings about 'Misfueling'
The research comes on the heels of an initiative by automakers —including Toyota, Nissan and BMW—and consumer groups in August, who asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back its latest ethanol blending targets to prevent the misinformed use at the gas pump by drivers of fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol in older cars that have not been upgraded to accept the blended fuel.
A poll conducted by AAA— an advocacy group for North American motorists—found that only 12 million out of the 240 million light-duty vehicles on the road were approved by automakers to use E15. What’s more, results indicated that an overwhelming 95 percent of consumers surveyed by the group were not familiar with E15 and might, therefore, be likely to “misfuel” at the pump.
Indeed, in mid-August, after refusing to back down from its corn ethanol blending targets, the EPA made a major concession—agreeing to defer its 2013 target by four months, from Feb. 28, 2014, to June 30, 2014, while hinting that it may be forced to reduce its overall 2014 target as well.
The agency’s final 2013 overall volumes and standards require 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply (a 9.74 percent blend). This standard specifically requires:
- Biomass-based diesel (1.28 billion gallons; 1.13 percent);
- Advanced biofuels (2.75 billion gallons; 1.62 percent); and
- Cellulosic biofuels (6.00 million gallons; 0.004 percent).
“These standards reflect EPA’s updated production projections, which are informed by extensive engagement with industry and a thorough assessment of the biofuels market,” the agency said in an official statement.
More ‘Motor Vehicles’ Than Just Cars
However, OPEI is concerned about more motor vehicles than just cars and trucks. Their members manufacture small engine products, such as mowers, garden tractors, chain saws, boats, snow throwers, trimmers, UTVs, power washers, blowers, chippers, grinders, generators, jaws of life, concrete saws and other compact construction equipment; as well as small engine applications such as water pumps and irrigation systems.
According to a statement by the trade association, “EPA has approved the introduction of some mid-level ethanol blends (E15, E30, E85) for use in a small subset of automobiles in an effort to comply with the federal renewable fuel mandate. The problem is that these higher ethanol fuel blends may be dispensed alongside current fuels, but they are illegal and risky to use in hundreds of millions of small engine products and applications.”
OPEI points out that, based on its recent findings, only one-quarter (25 percent) of respondents even notice the ethanol content of the fuel they are pumping at the station. For Americans who drive up to the fuel pump, price is overwhelmingly the number one thing they notice (91 percent). Whether the pump accepts credit cards (64 percent) and the octane rating (55 percent) come in second and third place. “Obviously, the ethanol survey responses are troubling to the outdoor power equipment industry since our products are designed and warranted to run only on 10 percent or less ethanol blended fuel. The data shows us that consumers are unprepared for the rollout of higher ethanol blended fuels at today’s gas stations and the potential for misfueling is high,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI.
According to Kiser, “Many consumers are determined to buy the least-expensive gasoline, while they still assume that the same fuel can go in their car as well as their mower, chain saw or generator. This points to a huge awareness gap and dire need for education.”
To protect current owners and future purchasers of small engines, UTVs and outdoor power equipment, OPEI will launch an ethanol education and consumer protection campaign—providing an overview of the variety of fuels available at the pump, and how to identify the right fuel for their outdoor power equipment.
Edited by Alisen Downey