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Automakers balk at EPA plans for higher-ethanol fuel

July 05, 2011|By Aaron Kessler

WASHINGTON — A dozen domestic and foreign automakers are raising concerns over damage that could be caused by gasoline containing 15% ethanol, which the Environmental Protection Agency plans to allow at U.S. gas pumps.

The EPA has released its warning sticker for gasoline containing 15% ethanol, known as E15 — a final step before the higher blend can be cleared for sale in the United States.

The 12 companies protesting E15 sent letters to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) in response to requests he sent to 14 automakers seeking information on whether the higher blend posed problems for their vehicles.

Sensenbrenner, vice chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has introduced legislation to block the EPA from allowing E15.

The automakers who have responded so far with concerns are Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Volvo, Hyundai, Kia and BMW.

The EPA is limiting the use of E15 to newer cars and light trucks from model year 2001 onward, along with flex-fuel vehicles.

It is prohibiting E15's use for motorcycles, boats, vehicles with heavy-duty engines such as buses and delivery trucks, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, off-road equipment and light vehicles from model year 2000 and older.

Automakers have expressed concern over potential damage from E15 even in newer models.

"You're talking about a more corrosive product, and we haven't seen thorough enough studies to convince us it's not going to be a problem," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group. "This would be a retroactive change for vehicles that were built up to 10 years ago, that were never designed with E15 in mind."

Bergquist said automakers would have preferred to see a specific warning on the sticker for drivers to check their individual owners' manuals because using fuel other than the types listed — which generally would not include E15 — could potentially void their warranties.

Kessler writes for the Detroit Free Press/McClatchy.

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