What About Flex-Fuel Vehicles?

Millions of flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are on the road, able to run on any mixture of fuel from plain old gasoline to E85, the ultimate “high blend” comprised of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Most FFVs have a logo on the back (like the one Ford uses, as pictured here) and a yellow gas cap to set them apart from the ordinary gasoline vehicles to which they are closely related.

AutoEcoRating doesn’t rate FFVs any differently from their gasoline-only counterparts, and here’s why.

Anyone who’s been following the great biofuels debate realizes that there’s no consensus on the environmental benefits of ethanol or other biofuels. At one time, biofuels were seen by many as a great solution for getting off of oil and cutting pollution, particularly the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are weirding out the earth’s climate.

Ethanol still has its true believers, of course, ranging from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), which represents many ethanol producers, to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), one of the green groups that promote biofuels. But even biofuel proponents don’t agree on which biofuels reduce CO2 emissions by how much or under what circumstances. If you check out their websites, for example, you’ll see that RFA claims significant environmental benefits for ethanol while UCS is more guarded in its assessment. And you don’t have to look very far for researchers who find that biofuels are bad for the environment.

So the only answer we can give to the question of whether biofuels — and therefore cars that can run on them such as FFVs — are actually greener than gasoline is: “it depends.”

Given the uncertainties involved, AutoEcoRating takes a judicial approach to the issue. Like the legal test for “innocent until proven guilty,” we just can’t say beyond a reasonable doubt whether FFVs, even when they run on E85, are better or worse than gasoline when it comes to an individual vehicle’s environmental impact.

Moreover, given the scarcity of E85, most FFVs run on gasoline pretty much all the time.

As a result, we don’t distinguish FFVs in the AutoEcoRating system. We evaluate their eRatings according to their official fuel economy and certified tailpipe emissions just as we do gasoline vehicles.



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