With ethanol, drivers don’t really care

Source: By Yahoo • Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Farming and oil lobbies have spent more than a decade battling over government programs that require renewable fuels be blended with petrol, but a survey has shown motorists largely don’t know or care what goes into their fuel tanks.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll of about 1,500 US drivers, more than a half said they were unfamiliar with ethanol. About the same portion of respondents said they paid little or no attention to whether the petrol they bought contained ethanol.

The results show that multi-million dollar campaigns waged by corn farmers and the biofuel lobby to boost the use ethanol in fuels and by the oil industry defending the status quo, barely register with consumers and gas retailers.

“I have no idea” what’s in the gas,” said Kerri Price, 53, who lives near Albuquerque and drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee. “I just drive up, look for the cheapest price and pump.”

Most consumers are unaware of the ethanol content of their petrol, and seem not to care.

The survey results and interviews with motorists show that cost and convenience trump everything, with 93 per cent of those surveyed saying price influenced their decisions and 80 per cent said location of a petrol station was a priority.

Higher ethanol blends tend to be slightly cheaper than the standard petrol, but the US’ shale oil boom and the collapse in oil and gas prices in the past two years have limited that price advantage.

Reducing greenhouse emissions was one reason more than 60 countries have adopted renewable fuel targets.

But the environment doesn’t seem to play a primary role in consumers’ decisions, the survey showed.

“People say they want to be green but the green they care about at the pump is in their wallet,” said John Eichberger, Executive Director of the Fuels Institute.

On the other hand, Big Oil and car manufacturers also seem to have struggled getting through their message that higher ethanol blends could impair vehicle durability and performance.

According to the poll, about four out of 10 Americans who drive to work said they did not know if ethanol was good for a vehicle’s general performance, while the rest appeared to be split about it. The same portion did not know if ethanol affected their mileage.

The reason the debate does not seem to resonate among consumers is that particularly the ethanol industry has focused its efforts on lobbying lawmakers, said Laura Sheehan, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

“It would take a full-out consumer education campaign. We’re talking an exorbitantly expensive one,” said Sheehan, who is also a public relations specialist in the energy sector.

“You’d have to make the campaign very personal. Ethanol is just not personal to the average consumer …”

Biofuel industry representatives say there is inherent difficulty in reaching consumers if a product is not widely available.

“The more the fuel is available, the more the industry will do to educate consumers and advance availability,” said Robert White, the Renewable Fuels Association’s Vice President of Industry Relations.

For Sheetz, one of the largest US fuel retailers to offer the 15 per cent and 85 per cent ethanol blends, the strategy is just to keep increasing the supply. The company is about to finish rolling out pumps for such fuels at its 60 stores in North Carolina.

“Did people know they wanted an iPad before it was out there?” said Michael Lorenz, Sheetz’s executive vice president of petroleum supply.

“Sometimes consumers don’t know what they want until you can show it to them.”