Survey shows low consumer awareness of E15

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013

Only about a quarter of the country’s fuel consumers are aware of E15, or gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, according to a survey conducted for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

The survey also found that consumers are largely unaware of which vehicles are allowed to fill up with E15, a blend U.S. EPA has approved for use in cars with model years 2001 and newer. The lack of awareness is hurting the fuel’s introduction into the marketplace, said John Eichberger, the association’s vice president of government relations.

“Consumer unfamiliarity with E15 significantly limits its retail availability because demand is insufficient,” Eichberger said.

Only 26 percent of surveyed fuel consumers were aware of E15. After survey takers described E15 to consumers, 59 percent, or three out of five consumers, said they would consider purchasing the fuel if it were the same price as gasoline. Three out of five of those consumers, though, had primary vehicles with model years for which it’s illegal to fuel up with E15.

Consumers were also largely unaware of E85, or gasoline containing 85 percent ethanol, that can be used in flex-fuel vehicles. Only 29 percent were familiar with E85, while only 10 percent said they drove a flex-fuel vehicle.

A separate survey found that fuel retailers perceived the low awareness of E15 and E85 as major impediments. Seventy-nine percent of retail members of the National Association of Convenience Stores cited lack of demand as a reason for not selling E15, while 75 percent said low demand was a reason for not selling E85.

Retailers also cited costs to upgrade equipment and liability over potential misfueling by vehicles not approved for E15 as reasons for not stocking the 15 percent blend. More than half, though, said they would consider selling the fuel if there were some liability protections put into place.

“Most retailers simply want to understand their potential risk before they invest in new equipment to sell a product,” Eichberger said. “We want to see a smooth market transition to meet the higher mandated blends, but that is simply not going to happen until consumers are ready for the fuels and until legal uncertainties for fuels retailers are clarified.”

The consumer survey was conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC and had a margin of error of 2.85 points. The polling firm surveyed 1,183 gas consumers between May 7 and May 9. About 30 retail companies ranging from one-store owners to large chains were surveyed between May 29 and Friday for the retail portion.

The American Coalition for Ethanol, which has pushed for the rapid rollout of E15, praised the survey results, saying they showed that the public was interested in E15 despite the fact that only a handful of gas stations around the country currently sell the fuel.

The coalition’s senior vice president, Ron Lamberty, called the National Association of Convenience Stores’ interpretation of the results “puzzling.”

“I think this shows that despite all of Big Oil’s misinformation and scare tactics, consumers are interested in purchasing E15 as an alternative to gasoline, even if the price were the same as gas,” Lamberty said, adding, “NACS calls demand for E15 ‘insufficient.’ I’ve been working in the convenience store industry for over 30 years and don’t think I’ve ever seen a product — much less a fuel product — that three out of five customers say they want.”