Will mandates work for flex fuel?

As the Federal government considers significant new mandates on an already struggling automobile industry, problems loom.
Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate mandating that by 2012 fifty percent of vehicles sold by American car makers would be Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs), that number rising to eighty-percent by 2015.

For starters, no where in the legislation does it provide for consumer demand. Time was when markets not government drove American industry and we did pretty well. American car buyers should also note that they are, more or less, being mandated as to what they will be allowed to buy. And that's only one reason for concern over the proposed legislation.

One has to dig below the mostly glowing news reports on Flex Fuels to understand the true complexity of the issue. See
here for example.

Two years of performance have given some village officials in the northwest suburbs enough' information to evaluate gas-efficient hybrid vehicles they bought for department fleets.
So far, the verdict is mostly positive, but emitting less carbon pollutants are not the only green features to consider. Municipal budgets are strained, as public and elected officials foresee costs in hybrid upkeep and replacing the $5,000 to $8,000 electric battery.

Then buried well down in the item is this:

"It's been tough making the good economics work for us. We burn twice as much flex fuel, and we don't have many gasoline stations around Buffalo Grove with E-85," said Bill Brimm, Buffalo Grove village manager.

As was recently pointed out
in graphical form here, nationally, the ratio of availability between traditional gasoline stations and those that provide E85, or Flex Fuel is staggering - 164,000 gasoline stations to 1,765 for Flex Fuel.

President and CEO for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Dave McCurdy recently pointed out that and other serious concerns in a letter to Senator Richard Shelby -
see this pdf.

I'd encourage you to read it so as to at least understand the perspective of American car makers - whether you choose to debate it, or not. The reality is our auto industry has been a cornerstone for our economy for decades. It's presently reeling from a number of pressures. And any reasons for their predicament don't really matter much right now.

My personal take away is that more government interference in the private sector placing additional burdens on an industry America needs at the very time it's struggling - combined with the ever-present law of unintended consequences - could prove disastrous for America at this critical time.

There's no question that America needs to move toward improved and more efficient
technologies and fuels as regards our automobiles. But just as with actually driving, sometimes going too fast fails to get you where you want to go without an otherwise avoidable crash.

Again, that pdf is here, should you want to give it a look.

Dan Riehl blogs on cars and the auto industry at thefastreport.com. His personal blog is riehlworldview.com. As a consultant on new media and blogging, his client list includes companies within the automobile industry.