An Open Letter to Jay Leno and the Ethanol Industry
Mar 19, 2015
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In the last few days I have read two very contradicting articles by Jay Leno on the subject of ethanol. Jay is a car guy, something I relate to at my core. But, Jay seems very confused on his thoughts on ethanol and e85. I would love the opportunity to hear his views on the matter as it pertains to the future of energy consumption in America rather then how it affects his personal car collection. At the same time I have been taking issue with the American ethanol industry for a while and I continue to suggest that the marketing sand education of ethanol in the US has been severely mismanaged. This makes Jay's polarizing commentary even more confusing to the American public. It is time to get some things straight.
In an article released in early March 2015 Jay Leno expressed his hate for ethanol. He talks about the possibility that gasoline blended with ethanol is the cause for an up tick in car fires. He complains about the short shelf life of ethanol and how it can cause problems when it sits in his vintage car's gas tanks for an extended period of time. He talks about haw ethanol, as a detergent, can loosen and dislodge sludge build up in his engines and cause fuel line and carburetor clogs. He then goes on to blast the RFS and accuse "Big corn producers" of pushing a bad product on the American public. Jay has had ethanol related problems with his McLaren and one of his vintage Duesenbergs and because of this he is making a plea to the American public to write their representatives to get the RFS abolished... Seems like crazy rich people problems to me Jay.
The funny thing is that a few years ago Jay wrote an article about converting his 2006 Z06 Corvette to e85. In this article he talks about how he fascinated with alternative energies. He talks about the huge increase in horse power he got and how fun it is to drive his "Green Machine". Jay says the e85 is not the only answer to alternative fuels but that it is a start and has obvious advantages over other options including a higher implied octane. The bottom line is that Jay is gushing about how he took a sports car and gave it more power while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and how satisfying it is in action.
So, what changed Jay? Did Big Oil buy you out? Or did you have enough ethanol related issues with your antique cars to sour your views? Either way the reasoning that Jay gives for hating ethanol are specific to him and a very few other people in the world. Jay, you have certainly proven the point that ethanol is not for the antique car collector that has hundreds of cars that get run only once in a while. You are correct in saying that ethanol is bad for cars built decades ago. And, because you have lots of collector cars that have been built decades ago and have had to put a e10 or e15 blend in the gas tank and then not run them for a while you have had problems and now you are mad.
Fair enough Jay, but the point you made a few years ago about how thrilled you were with your e85 converted corvette is much more pertinent to the real American public. Jay, please understand that we do not all have massive garages holding hundreds of antique cars. At best we strive to have a fun, sporty car as out daily driver or as a second car. So are we worried that ethanol is going to clean the gunk out of the fuel line and clog the carburetor of our vintage Duesenberg? No, I assure you not. But, would we like to spend a little money to convert or buy a car that can properly use e85 to maximize horse power? Yes, a lot of us would.
Here is where the ethanol industry has failed us. From what I can tell, any marketing and education of e85 to the American public (what very little there was anyway) was directed at the value consumer. "E85 is cheep and can save you a few bucks in your economy car even though your car is trying to burn it like 87 octane and MPG suffers. If gas prices are not super expensive don't use e85, regular gas is better." At least this is the perception that the average American consumer has. This is not you target market. E85 should be marketed as a premium, high octane fuel for the premium car buyer. It is the sports cars and sports sedans and luxury SUVs that take 93 octane premium fuel that are the potential market. At this moment most of these vehicles are 93 octane only and not able to burn e85. The owners of these vehicles are not likely to go out and spend $2-3k to get the proper e85 conversion, however some (like me) might.
This is where the ethanol industry needs to step in. They need to bang on the doors of the premium/luxury car companies and ask them, rather show them why they should at least be offering the e85 conversion as a performance or sport upgrade for their new cars. Premium car buys spend thousands of dollars and bend over backwards for the sport package and an e85 conversion may be the most productive option when it comes to adding horse power. As cost of scale come down this could be a standard option on all luxury cars. To take this one step further - the recent trend in luxury car companies is to get the most power out of the smallest engine possible. Well, e85 can certainly help with that. Looking out into the future, automotive technology rolls down hill. By this I mean the most premium cars have the most advances technology and the lower tier cars pick up this technology as time goes by. This could mean very good things for e85 as the car companies and the American consume come to understand its potential.
Is ethanol or e85 for everyone? No. Is e85 for the guy driving a 12 year old economy car? Probably not. Is e85 for the super rich antique car collector? Nope. Does e85 have a place in the US market? Absolutely. The key is that e85 is a premium fuel for the premium market. E85 is for guys like me, red blooded Americans who like more power out of their vehicles and are willing to pay a premium for it. There is a huge segment of guys/gals like me out there. We buy premium sport sedans or sports cars because we enjoy driving and we like the feeling of something under our left foot. The sooner the ethanol industry embraces their target market the better aligned they will be to grow understanding, acceptance and demand.
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Jay, if you're interested in a discussion please give me a call or shoot me an email. An open invitation to the ethanol industry as well - Ted Seifried (312) 277-0113 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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