GM pitches E-85 in Houston

Gasoline has had 100 years to fix its problems. Ethanol deserves the same chance.
That was the message from a General Motors Corp. executive, who was in Houston Tuesday to kick off a seven city tour promoting the use of E85, a fuel that combines 85 percent ethanol with 15 percent gasoline.
“We’re trying to make people more aware so we can create demand for this product,” said Bob Babik, GM’s director of vehicle emissions issues, speaking to reporters at the Doubletree Hotel downtown.
Babik said E85 offers the greatest immediate promise for reducing U.S. dependence on oil, and GM has poured millions into a “Live Green, Go Yellow” advertising campaign to sell the fuel’s virtues and debunk its myths.
But critics say ethanol is not a good solution as long as it is made from food crops like corn, whose prices have soared amid increased ethanol production.
What’s more, critics say ethanol requires more energy to produce than gasoline and that its lower fuel economy makes its uncompetitive with gasoline.
Babik said while some criticisms of ethanol are valid, there are still many misconceptions about the fuel.
He cites an example. Critics say higher corn prices are driving up grocery bills, but Babik said food prices are rising at the pace of inflation.
If corn prices do keep rising, it could affect some food prices, but the increase is likely to be minimal, Babik said.
In a box of Corn Flakes, for instance, the cost of corn represents 2.2 cents of the total price. Even if corn were to double in cost, consumers would still see less than a 5 cent increase, he said.
Babik urged naysayers to stop attacking the fuel and try to figure out ways to make it better.
“This isn’t an us-versus-them kind of problem,” he said. With global energy demand rising and oil prices increasing, “we have to use all the tools in our toolbox,” he said.
GM has more than 2 million “flex fuel” vehicles on U.S. roads, which can run on either gasoline or E85. But with only 1,200 E85 pumps in the nation, consumers haven’t had much chance to try E85, Babik said.
Babik said GM is willing to step up its flex-fuel vehicle output to half of its total production by 2012, but said that goal may be “nonsensical” unless more E85 pumps are built.
In Houston, there are 12 E85 pumps. GM will be at one of them Wednesday morning from 7 to 9 a.m., selling E85 for 85 cents a gallon. The promotion will be at the Kroger store at 1801 S. Voss Rd.
After Houston, GM will take its E85 tour to Dallas, San Antonio, Cincinnati, Miami, Atlanta and Chicago.