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Toyota to Introduce Flex-Fuel Vehicles in US by 2008

The Financial Times reports that Toyota is planning to sell flex-fuel vehicles in the US by 2008 to address the surge of interest in ethanol as a renewable fuel. In 2005, Toyota indicated that it was developing flex-fuel vehicles targeted toward the Latin American market. (Earlier post.)

In the US, GM and Ford are becoming especially vocal about the potential for flex-fuel vehicles, partly as a way to comply with fuel-economy regulations, and partly as a marketing tool to reduce the concern among potential buyers about high fuel consumption in larger vehicles at a time when oil and gasoline prices continue to rise sharply.

... the Japanese company is eager to show it has not put all its eggs into the hybrid basket. “We’re studying all alternative fuels,” Toyota said. “We will not be outflanked.” Last year’s surge of consumer interest in hybrid vehicles has shown signs of flagging amid questions about whether the extra fuel efficiency justifies the high purchase price.

Toyota has also suggested that a less ambitious strategy of mixing only 10-15 per cent ethanol into gasoline might produce greater savings, given that it would require little or no adjustment to existing engines.



I like the idea of being ready for home grown fuel by having every car either bio diesel or ethanol ready.

I don't understand the comment at the end of the article of 10 to 15 % ethanol if the service stations are carrying E85. Once the cars are ready for Brazil the engineering work has been done for flex fuel.

I'll be the first in line to buy a hybrid running on bio diesel or E85. And a plug in would be even better.


I am wondering how much of a price difference there is between regular car and flex fuel car. Ethanol resistant fuel system, some sensor to see if car is running on ethanol or gasoline, and recalibration of a computer. Anything else?? How much can it cost $200-$500 in mass production?? If it such a small cost why not require every gas power car to flex fuel?

Sid Hoffman

GM is estimated to spend an extra $250/vehicle for the FFV's. That might not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that the automakers fight for every fraction of a penny per vehicle, and $250 is a LOT. The average automaker barely makes $500 in profit per vehicle, or in GM's case, they could only DREAM of making $500 or even $250 per vehicle, since they are currently losing money. The only way you'd see universal adoption is by making it a nationwide requirement, since then the automakers will do it knowing at least it's a level playing field since everyone has to meet the same requirement.


I wonder if this would include the Prius.


I'll consider an FFV when I see cellulose ethanol. Corn ethanol just isn't worth it.


Actually, automaker profit margins vary widely not only by company but also across vehicle categories and types. Larger vehicles and especially luxury models can have profit margins of several thousand dollars per vehicle. Smaller cars, especially those made by US manufacturers, barely earn a profit at all.

US automakers have introduced flex fuel capabilities on their larger vehicles first for several reasons. First, a few hundred dollars represents a smaller fraction of the total purchase price of a large vehicle, making it less expensive on a percentage basis. Second, profit margins are higher on large vehicles, providing more "room" to pay for this equipment. Third, consumers would rationally be more interested in fixed-cost fuel-consumption-lowering equipment in vehicles that go through more fuel per year than those that go through less. Fourth, I think that the regulatory benefits to making a given number of large vehicles flex-fuel is greater than the regulatory benefits of making the same number of smaller vehicles flex-fuel, based on the CAFE rules.

For all the problems which come with giving CAFE bonuses to carmakers who produce flex-fuel vehicles which will likely never see a drop of E85, the fact remains that introducing ethanol fuel is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. Development of large-scale, cost-effective and environmentally sound ethanol production methods requires the prospect of high ethanol demand; investors will build ethanol plants if they know there is a market for the product. Development of ethanol-burning and ethanol optimized cars, which would drive large-scale demand, requires the assurance that large quantities of reasonably priced ethanol will be available. No carmaker would build a car that could not be easily refueled.

Bootstrapping your way out of this conundrum requires a host of small measures which attack both sides of the problem. Ethanol and FFV technology can be directly supported by government research grants. Ethanol demand can be stimulated by mandating or subsidizing widespread E10 use, which can be consumed in unmodified modern gasoline engines. Creating a large installed base of ethanol burning cars can be done by creating dual-fuel cars and then providing incentives to get a lot of them on the road.

We are nearing the end of this first stage: We know how to run and optimize engines for ethanol (not that current FFVs are actually optimized at present). We have a fairly large market for the production, consumption and transport of ethanol largely due to E10 demand. And we have a fairly large installed base of FFVs, thanks largely to Ford and GM's response to the CAFE incentives. Probably the last piece of the puzzle is truly optimized ethanol production -- cellulostic ethanol -- as opposed to the only marginally useful corn-based methods currently used.

The second stage of market adoption is beginning: Large numbers of FFVs combined with large volumes of available ethanol are making it sensible to install a larger number of E85 pumps in several geographic regions. Once a substantial number of motorists find themselves consistantly able to fill up on E85, they will start to demand that their FFVs -- currently optimized for regular-octane gas -- be optimized for higher-octane E85. By enabling higher compression ratios and better cooling, that would help close the efficiency gap that currently exists between running a typical FFV on gas versus E85.

These first two stages are not self-stable -- absent a sudden and massive oil shock, the market will not support those groundwork-laying moves. Only a concerted government investment involving mandates and subsidies can get the ball rolling through these admittedly unprofitable steps. The payoff is when we reach the third stage of market acceptance. That is, well optimized and relatively fuel-efficient E85 vehicles will be widespread, the price of ethanol will be relatively low because high ethanol production and delivery volumes have created economies of scale, and the cost-per-mile of operating a vehicle will be equal or lower than the cost we face today, with the added benefit of a reduced GHG footprint and reduced reliance on foreign energy.

Pretty much the only piece of this picture that is technically infeasable at the present is cellulostic ethanol, or some other breakthrough method which reduces the price and cost of that fuel. Currently, ethanol is trading for well over $2.00, as the rapid phase-out of MTBE is creating an unexpectedly sudden surge in demand for ethanol as a replacement oxygenate. However, as more ethanol plants open and supply increases, my guess is that ethanol produced using current technologies will come back to historic price levels of $1.50 to $1.70 a gallon. If oil remains above $50 a barrel for the long term, then ethanol produced with present technology is competative with gasoline, on a cost-per-mile basis, assuming engines get optimized for it. Breakthrough technologies would make ethanol a positive winner, hands down.

At this point, an ethanol future is price-equivalent with a gasoline future, probably a bit sounder from an environmental point of view, attractive from a national-security and economy point of view, and retains the possibility that a foreseeable technological leap will result in major gains on many of these grounds.

Sure, ethanol is in the interests of farm-state politicians and business interests. But any replacement fuel will mean big business to whomever can supply it, so interests will always arise. What is important in this context is the fact that ethanol is in fact a viable way to run a country (see Brazil), and that we are closing in on global economic conditions that would likely make it the most cost-effective way to run our country.

We could cut ethanol subsidies and CAFE bonuses to FFV makers, but that would simply send us right back down to the status quo of total gasoline dependence. That would lead to a more wrenching move away from petroleum when the crisis finally comes, rather than a smooth transition away from gasoline, which is something government action in the marketplace can help us achieve.

Hybrids, by contrast, cannot be the long term answer. If a country has 50 years of fuel remaining at current consumption rates, suddenly doubling fuel economy only puts off the day their fuel is exhaused for 50 years. That day will still eventually come. Switching to another fuel -- hopefully a renewable one -- changes the game for the indefinite future.


does anyone know of a national effort to require all vehicles sold in the US to be 85% ethanol compatible?

or even state by state?

the average car in the states stays on the road for more than a decade, so the sooner the better

Mark A

Toyota is now playing catch-up to GM!!! I was wondering if I would see it mentioned. I didnt, so I mentioned it myself, even if I dont agreee with the whole ethanol situation.


I'm assuming that the proposal to make all vehicles E85 compliant doesn't include diesels (duh).

And as long as we're dictating what kind of technology the automakers have to use, let's specify diesel hybrids and call the whole thing off.

Given biodiesel's much higher EROI than ethanol, why aren't people on this board pushing biodiesel rather than ethanol.

Does anyone have any real world mileage numbers on a vehicle optimized for ethanol use? In the mean time, do we require automakers to optimize for gas or ethanol. If we require optimization for ethanol and there is not enough ethanol, then we condemn the consumer to higher per mile fuel prices when they run gas. If the car is optimized for gas, then their mileage will suck when they run ethanol.

Right now, GM doesn't optimize for ethanol; therefore, anyone using E85 is suffering from higher prices per mile which kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it. People who think they are sticking it to the oil companies and the Arabs are just sticking it to themselves.


A. Ethanol is being pushed alongside biodiesel (instead of a biodiesel-only approach) for several reasons: 1. Both fuels are made from different feedstocks, so that once we've used up all our surplus soybeans, we can still find something useful to do with all our surplus corn. 2. Ethanol seems ripe for a breakout technological development (cellulostic production) which can significantly reduce energy and money costs in the long term, even over biodiesel. 3. Ethanol is compatible with our gasoline-fired engine technologies, which are popular for market reasons as well as regulatory ones (i.e. at present you cannot buy a new diesel passenger car in California, New York, Massachusetts or Vermont).

B. I don't have good numbers for ethanol-optimized cars, despite trying to find Brazilian statistics. Experimental work on ethanol optimization is promising: http://www.ifp.fr/IFP/fr/IFP02OGS.nsf/0/A035F6E8F33537C880256F94003B7A09/$file/jeuland1_vol59n6.pdf?openelement. See also http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/12/saab_flexfuel_b.html.

C. Frankly, I don't know how much government can or should mandate. A big part of the trick is to make a transition to alternative and renewable fuels cost-effective and smooth for the consumer. That reasoning stands behind government decisions to encourage and subsidize, rather than command and mandate; whenever the government makes and abrupt decision (such as the fairly abrupt phase out of MTBE which we are currently living through), the market is likely to feel some painful jolts.
Ford and GM (and now Toyota) will begin to tune their engines for ethanol once enough ethanol pumps are installed in major regions in the country and consumers realize they could save on their fuel bills by demanding it. Consumers won't demand ethanol optimization until they know they can reliably fill up on ethanol. When Ford realizes that it can sell more pickups by optimizing their F150's for ethanol and then advertising that advantage, the will. GM will then likely follow up with a re-tuned version of their Silverado.
How do we get to the point where enough ethanol pumps are around to convince consumers to take the plunge and demand ethanol optimization? Have a powerful and interested actor (such as the government) subsidize the deployment of a large fleet of gasoline-optimized dual-fuel vehicles (so that consumers are willing to buy them even when the expect to burn mainly gas), and subsidize the time-consuming deployment of a large number of ethanol pumps, to the point where the unoptimized ethanol performance is still cheaper (to the consumer) than the gasoline performance. As ethanol production becomes more efficient and vehicle optimization catches on, gradually reduce the subsidies, so the cost-per-mile remains competitve with gasoline without becoming unduly cheap, until the transition is complete.


"If we require optimization for ethanol and there is not enough ethanol, then we condemn the consumer to higher per mile fuel prices when they run gas"

If an engine had a higher compression ratio to "optimize" for E85 it might not run at all on gas or the engine would destroy itself in the process.

Try running you gasoline engine on diesel ...as an extream example of too low octane and see what happens.

If you have a vehicle that will run off E85 and you wnat to get better performance on Ethanol remove the cylinder head(s) and use a thiner head gasket, mill the head and/or block or change the pistons to increase the compression ratio.

The untited states has cheap fuel prices with respect to the rest of the world but we have some of the lowest quality fuels as well.

Diesels can be run on E95

The otto cycle is more efficent than the diesel cycle running at the same compression ratio.

However given the materials and fuels commonly in use a diesel engine can have a compression ratio 2 times or more as high as that of a gasoline engine. which is why a diesel typically has a higher thermodynamic efficency in practice.

Talk solar talk bio fuels whatever ya want we only get ~1000 -1300 watts per square meter from the sun ....
you can't expect to get much more than that out of a solar pannel or a field growing something you convert to fuel.

We can't continue to use energy at our current rate forever. There is a limited supply of energy.
Driving a hybrid does not change that.


"...That might not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that the automakers fight for every fraction of a penny per vehicle, and $250 is a LOT"
Thanks for actual data but:
My point was, at $250 per vehicle it would cost the same as requiring airbags, as requiring catalictic converter, as requirng any other safety measure that was introduced into every car on the road in recent years. Just because some part cost $250 it does not neccesarly mean it would be taken from company profit.
I doubt that anyone would care if they had to pay extra $250 unless someone explicitly pointed it to them.


A car optimised for E85 could reasily run regular gasoline with enough ignition retard. It wouldn't run as well though.

Joe Rocker

Crooked oil companies and the government are pushing Ethanol as an alternative fuel, knowing full well that there is limited by the supply of corn. Methanol is produced from coal and is a lot cheaper. There is a 300 year supply of coal in the US. Methanol can be produced for as little as 50 cents per gallon and we won't have to send our kids overseas to die for it.


Toyota is mainly developing ethanol vehicles for Brazil, not for US. Toyota is simply covering it's bases in the US.

Ethanol is still very limited by infrastructure in the US.


Alternative and cheaper fuels have exsisted for literally 100 years if the well being of the environment was an important issue they would have been in use a long time ago.

An ironical fact is that the inventer of diesel engine mr Rudolf Diesel created it to run on peanut oil to run more efficiently than from fossil fuel diesel.

The technology exsists to run vehicles on less than 1 litre per hundred kilometers of fossil fuels(as from 1999) as appossed to the average 6 litres per hundred kilometers.

whats going on - Big Business

whoe's suffereing the environment and therefore our future generations and ofcourse us the user finacially but also in health as it is a fact that products made from crude oil ie fossil fuels and a multitude of other products largely increase cancers, birth defects and weakened immune systems.

why should we and the earth suffer at the cost of the inconsiderate crude oil industries, when perfectly viable alternative exsist and have done for so long!

Roger Pham

Flexible Fuel Vehicle is best implemented in a hybrid car utilizing Atkinson cycle engine. Here's why: Ethanol fuel has much higher octane rating than gasoline, meaning a car optimized for ethanol can benefit from higher compression ratio for increase in thermal efficiency. An Otto-cycle engine normally can't change its compression on the fly, hence a car designed to run smoothly with gasoline will not be optimally efficient with ethanol. A car optimized for ethanol will experience detonation problem when gasoline of 87-93 octane is used. But, an Atkinson cycle like the Prius'engine has variable-timing intake valve, such that the compression ratio can be changed on the fly, depending on how soon or how late the intake valve closure in relation the piston bottom dead center. Close the intake valve early, and higher compression will result, good for ethanol and natural gas fuel, with maximum power and economy. Close intake valve later after the piston bottom dead center, and lower compression will result, good for gasoline engine.

Personally, I think that ethanol fuel is misguided, due to the many steps and large amount of energy expended in producing it. Methane and hydrogen derived from biomass gasification can be produced much more efficiently and more cheaply than ethanol and bio-diesel. Hydrogen can also be produced from solar and wind generator. A future Prius with 94 mpg can run well with methane or hydrogen fuel utiling a hi-pressure tank the same size as a comparable gasoline car and deliver the same range, because even though compressed methane has 1/3 the energy density as gasoline, the Prius III will be 3 X more fuel-efficient. Running on renewable non-fossil fuel will have the energy dependency problem solved. Renewable Hydrogen may be more expensive per BTU unit than gasoline, but the Prius III will be 3x more efficient, hence the energy cost will even be lower than gasoline today in 30 mpg cars. Fueling infrastructure with methane or hydrogen? Honda is selling home fueling station for natural gas cars. A FFV capable of running on either methane, hydrogen, or gasoline will have the problem solved. Fueling up at home with in-house gas pipeline 90% of the time for in-town trips, or a local station equipped with natural gas filling equipment, and save a lot of money. Occasional out-of-town trips can be managed by a strapped on or built-in gasoline fuel-tank. For the Prius III with 94 mpg, a gasoline tank of 5 gallons is equivalent to a 15-gallon tank in a 30-mpg car, so,not much internal space will be needed. Running gasoline and hydrogen simultaneously from both tanks, and one can realize boost in energy efficiency of up to 30-40% in comparison to gasoline alone. Not a bad deal for the extra complication of a FFV, ain't it?


I recently saw this video given by a leading proponent of ethanol as a solution.

Its about 1 hour long, and if you have doubts or are interested to know more about things like energy balance, cost to manufacturers, emmission issues, etc. He deals with all of that. I highly recommend it.


A question to the people here who are pro-hybrid. What happens to the batteries when they inevitably wear out? I have friends with 4 year old hybrids that are already losing their mpg efficiency and power. So when the battery wears out (think of how an old cell phone or Ipod loses it's ability to hold a charge) where does the battery go? Are we destined to have a new battery every 5 years? If millions of people are dumping batteries in landfills every year, how is this a respnsible solution? Mix in the idea that hybrids still depend on petroleum and they appear to me to be nothing more than a bandaid on a gaping sore.

For this reason alone I am anxious to see BD and ethanol become a viable fuel source at the pump.



does anyone know what the maximium amount\purity ethanol you can run in a toyota 3vze engin. in regardes to home production.
is their a kit for the corrisive fuel sytem parts and chips to buy for better effciantcy


What are some good references on the subject of variable valve timing for flex-fueled vehicles,and the Atkinson cycle. Very interested to learn more. Thanks
(re: post by francis)


sorry, post by Roger Pham

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