Flexible-fuel vehicle

A flexible-fuel vehicle (FFV) or dual-fuel vehicle (colloquially called a flex-fuel vehicle) is an alternative fuel automobile or light duty truck with a internal combustion engine designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel, and both fuels are stored in the same common tank. Flex-fuel engines are capable of burning any proportion of the resulting blend in the combustion chamber as fuel injection is adjusted automatically according to the actual blend detected by electronic sensors. Flex-fuel vehicles are distinguished from bi-fuel vehicles, where two fuels are stored in separate tanks and the engine runs on one fuel at a time.

The most common commercially available FFV in the market is the ethanol flexible-fuel vehicle, with more than 14 million vehicles on the road around the world by mid-2008, concentrated in the United States (7.3 million), Brazil (6.2 million), Canada (600,000), and Europe, led by Sweden (116,000). In addition to flex-fuel vehicles running with ethanol, in Europe and the US, mainly in California, there have been successful test programs with methanol flex-fuel vehicles, known as M85 flex-fuel vehicles. There have been also successful tests using P-series fuels with E85 flex fuel vehicles, but as of June 2008, this fuel is not yet available to the general public. These successful tests with P-series fuels were conducted on Ford Taurus and Dodge Caravan flexible-fuel vehicles.

Though technology exists to allow ethanol FFVs to run on any mixture of gasoline and ethanol, from pure gasoline up to 100% ethanol (E100), North American and European flex-fuel vehicles are optimized to run on a maximum blend of 15% gasoline with 85% anhydrous ethanol (called E85 fuel). This limit in the ethanol content is set to avoid cold starting problems during cold weather, and to reduce ethanol emissions at temperatures lower than 15 ° Celsius (59 °F). The alcohol content might be reduced during the winter in regions with very cold temperatures, to a blend E70 in the U.S. or to E75 in Sweden. Brazilian flex fuel vehicles are optimized to run on any mix of E20-E25 gasoline and up to 100% hydrous alcohol (E100). The Brazilian flex vehicles are built-in with a small gasoline reservoir for cold starting the engine when temperatures drop below 15 ° Celsius (59 °F). An improved flex motor generation that will be launched in 2009 is designed to eliminate the need for the secondary gas tank.


As ethanol FFVs became commercially available during the late 1990s, the common use of the term "flexible-fuel vehicle" became synonymous with ethanol FFVs. In the United States flex-fuel vehicles are also known as "E85 vehicles". In Brazil, the FFVs are popularly known as "total flex" or simply "flex" cars. In Europe, FFVs are also known as "flexifuel" vehicles. Automakers, particularly in Brazil and the European market, use badging in their FFV models with the some variant of the word "flex", such as Volvo Flexifuel, or Volkswagen Total Flex, or Chevrolet FlexPower or Renault Hi-Flex, and Ford sells its Focus model in Europe as Flexifuel and as Flex in Brazil. In the US, only newer FFV models feature a yellow gas cap with the label "E85/Gasoline" written on the top of the cap to differentiate E85s from gasoline only models, and just recently, GM introduced badging with the text "Flexfuel/E85 Ethanol".

Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are based on dual-fuel systems that supply both fuels into the combustion chamber at the same time in various calibrated proportions. The most common fuels used by FFVs today are unleaded gasoline and ethanol fuel. Ethanol FFVs can run on pure gasoline, pure ethanol (Common ethanol fuel mixtures#E100) or any combination of both. Methanol has also been blended with gasoline in flex-fuel vehicles known as M85 FFVs, but their use has been limited mainly to demonstration projects and small government fleets, particularly in California.

  • The term flexible-fuel vehicles is sometimes used to include other alternative fuel vehicles that can run with natural gas (CNG), LPG, or hydrogen. However, all these vehicles actually are bi-fuel vehicles, because they have engines that store the other fuel in a separate tank, and the engine runs on one fuel at a time. Bi-fuel vehicles have the capability to switch back and forth from gasoline to the other fuel, manually or automatically. The most common available fuel in the market for bi-fuel cars is natural gas (CNG), and it is used mainly in Europe, where Italy currently has the largest number of CNG vehicles. They are also used in South America, where these vehicles are mainly used as taxicabs in main cities of Brazil and Argentina. Normally, standard gasoline vehicles are retrofitted in specialized shops, which involve installing the gas cylinder in the trunk and the CNG injection system and electronics.
  • Multifuel vehicles are capable of operating with more than two fuels. In 2006 FIAT introduced the Fiat Siena Tetra fuel, a four-fuel car developed under Magneti Marelli of Fiat Brazil. This automobile can run as a flex-fuel on 100% ethanol (E100); or on E25, Brazil's normal ethanol gasoline blend; on pure gasoline (no longer available in Brazil since 1993); or just on natural gas; and the vehicle switches from any gasoline-ethanol blend to CNG automatically, depending on the power required by road conditions. Other existing option is to retrofit an ethanol flexible-fuel vehicle to add a natural gas tank and the corresponding injection system. This option is popular among taxicabs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, allowing users to choose among three fuels (E25, E100 and CNG) according to current market prices at the pump. Vehicles with this adaptation are known in Brazil as tri-fuel cars.


The first commercial flexible fuel vehicle was the Ford Model T, produced from 1908 through 1927. It was fitted with a carburetor with adjustable jetting, allowing use of gasoline or ethanol, or a combination of both. Other car manufactures also provided engines for ethanol fuel use. Henry Ford continued to advocate for ethanol as fuel even during the prohibition. However, cheaper oil caused gasoline to prevail, until the 1973 oil crisis resulted in gasoline shortages and awareness on the dangers of oil dependence. This crisis opened a new opportunity for ethanol and other alternative fuels, such as methanol, gaseous fuels such as CNG and LPG, and also hydrogen.
Ethanol, methanol and natural gas CNG were the three alternative fuels that received more attention and government support.

Since the second half of the 1970s, and as a response to the oil shock, the Brazilian government implemented the National Alcohol Program -Pró-Álcool- (Portuguese: "Programa Nacional do Álcool"), a nationwide program financed by the government to phase out all automobile fuels derived from fossil fuels in favor of ethanol made from sugar cane. It began with a low blend of anhydrous alcohol with regular gasoline, and since July 2007 the mandatory blend is 25% of alcohol or gasohol E25. In July 1979, and as a response to the second oil crisis, the first vehicle capable of running with pure ethanol was built, the Fiat 147. The Brazilian government provided three important initial drivers for the ethanol industry: guaranteed purchases by the state-owned oil company Petrobras, low-interest loans for agro-industrial ethanol firms, and fixed gasoline and ethanol prices. After reaching more than 4 million cars and light trucks running on pure ethanol by the late 1980s, the use of E100-only vehicles sharply declined after increases in sugar prices produced shortages of ethanol fuel. After extensive research, a second push took place in May 2003, when the Brazilian subsidiary of Volkswagen began production of the first full flexible-fuel car, the Gol 1.6 Total Flex. Several months later was followed by other Brazilian automakers, and by 2008 Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Peugeot, Renault,Volkswagen, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Citröen were producing popular models of flex cars and light trucks. The adoption of ethanol flex fuel vehicles was so successful, that production of flex cars went from almost 40 thousand in 2003 to 1.7 million in 2007. This rapid adoption of the flex technology was facilitated by the fuel distribution infrastructure already in place, as around 27,000 filling stations countrywide were available by 1997 with at least one ethanol pump, a heritage of the Pró-Álcool program.

In the United States, initial support to develop alternative fuels by the government was also a response to the oil crisis, and some time later, as a goal to improve air quality. Also, liquid fuels were preferred over gaseous fuels not only because they have a better volumetric energy density but also because they were the most compatible fuels with existing distribution systems and engines, thus avoiding a big departure from the existing technologies and taking advantage of the vehicle and the refueling infrastructure. California led the search of sustainable alternatives with interest focused in methanol. Ford Motor Company and other automakers responded to California's request for vehicles that run on methanol. In 1981, Ford delivered 40 dedicated methanol fuel (M100) Escorts to Los Angeles County, but only four refueling stations were installed. The biggest challenge in the development of alcohol vehicle technology was getting all of the fuel system materials compatible with the higher chemical reactivity of the fuel. Methanol was even more of a challenge than ethanol but, fortunately, much of the early experience gained with ethanol vehicle production in Brazil was transferable to methanol. The success of this small experimental fleet of M100s led California to request more of these vehicles, mainly for government fleets. In 1983, Ford built 582 M100 vehicles; 501 went to California, and the remaining to New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, United Kingdom, and Canada.

As an answer to the lack of refueling infrastructure, Ford began development of a flexible-fuel vehicle in 1982, and between 1985 and 1992, 705 experimental FFVs were built and delivered to California and Canada, including the 1.6L Escort, the 3.0L Taurus, and the 5.0L LTD Crown Victoria. These vehicles could operate on either gasoline or methanol with only one fuel system. Legislation was passed to encourage the US auto industry to begin production, which started in 1993 for the M85 FFVs at Ford. In 1996, a new FFV Ford Taurus was developed, with models fully capable of running on either methanol or ethanol blended with gasoline. This ethanol version of the Taurus became the first commercial production of a E85 FFV. The momentum of the FFV production programs at the American car companies continued, although by the end of the 1990s, the emphasis shifted to the FFV E85 version, as it is today. Ethanol was preferred over methanol because there is a large support from the farming community, and thanks to the government's incentive programs and corn-based ethanol subsidies. Sweden also tested both the M85 and the E85 flexifuel vehicles, but due to agriculture policy, in the end emphasis was given to the ethanol flexifuel vehicles. Support for ethanol also comes from the fact that it is a biomass fuel, which addresses climate change concerns and greenhouse gas emissions, though these benefits are now highly debated depending on the feedstock used for ethanol production.

The demand for ethanol fuel produced from field corn in the United States was stimulated by the discovery in the late 90s that methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), an oxygenate additive in gasoline, was contaminating groundwater. Due to the risks of widespread and costly litigation, and because MTBE use in gasoline was banned in almost 20 states by 2006, the substitution of MTBE opened a new market for ethanol fuel. This demand shift for ethanol as an oxygenate additive took place at a time when oil prices were already significantly rising. By 2006, about 50 percent of the gasoline used in the U.S. contains ethanol at different proportions, and ethanol production grew so fast that the US became the world's first ethanol producer, overtaking Brazil in 2005. This shift also contributed to a sharp increase in the production and sale of E85 flex vehicles since 2002.

Flexible-fuel vehicles by country


After the 1973 oil crisis, the Brazilian government made mandatory the use of ethanol blends with gasoline, and 100% ethanol powered cars (E100 only) were developed by 1979. Brazilian carmakers modified gasoline engines to support ethanol characteristics and changes included compression ratio, amount of fuel injected, replacement of materials that would get corroded by the contact with ethanol, use of colder spark plugs suitable for dissipating heat due to higher flame temperatures, and an auxiliary cold-start system that injects gasoline from a small tank in the engine compartment to help starting when cold. Flexible-fuel technology started being developed only by the end of the 1990s by Brazilian engineers. The Brazilian flexible fuel car is built with an ethanol-ready engine and one fuel tank for both fuels. The gasoline reservoir for starting in cold weather was kept in the first generation of Brazilian flexible-fuel cars, mainly for users of the southern regions, where winter temperatures can drop below 15° Celsius (59 °F). An improved flex motor generation that will be launched in 2009 will eliminate the need for this secondary gas storage tank. A key innovation in the Brazilian flex technology was avoiding the need for an additional dedicated sensor to monitor the ethanol-gasoline mix, which made the first American M85 flex fuel vehicles to expensive. This was accomplished through the lambda probe, used to measure the quality of combustion in conventional engines, is also required to tell the engine control unit (ECU) which blend of gasoline and alcohol is being burned. This task is accomplished automatically through software developed by Brazilian engineers, called "Software Fuel Sensor" (SFS), fed with data from the standard sensors already built-in the vehicle, . The technology was developed by the Brazilian subsidiary of Bosch in 1994, but was further improved and commercially implemented in 2003 by the Italian subsidiary of Magneti Marelli, located in Hortolândia, São Paulo. A similar fuel injection technology was developed by the Brazilian subsidiary of Delphi Automotive Systems, and it is called "Multifuel", based on research conducted at its facility in Piracicaba, São Paulo. This technology allows the controller to regulate the amount of fuel injected and spark time, as fuel flow needs to be decreased and also self-combustion needs to be avoided when gasoline is used because ethanol engines have compression ratio around 12:1, too high for gasoline.

Ethanol Flex Light Vehicles Manufacturing in Brazil
Year Flex
as %
Total light
2003 39,853 9,411 1,721,841 2.9
2004 282,706 49,801 2,181,131 15.2
2005 776,164 81,735 2,377,453 36.1
2006 1,249,062 142,574 2,471,224 56.3
2007 1,719,667 217,186 2,801,011 69.1
Aug 2008* 1,458,128* 181,872* 2,178,618* 75.3*
Total 2003-08* 5,525,580* 682,579* 13,731,278* 45.2*
Note: * Until August 2008. Source: ANFAVEA. ** Total light vehicles includes
autos and light trucks fueled with gasoline, pure ethanol, flex, and diesel.
Brazilian flex cars are capable of running on pure hydrated ethanol (E100), or on pure gasoline blend E20-E25, or on any arbitrary combination of ethanol (E100) and gasoline with a blend of 20-25% anhydrous ethanol, as the E20-E25 blend is mandatory in the country since 1993. All Brazilian automakers have optimized flex vehicles to run with gasoline blends from E20 to E25, and with a few exceptions, these FFVs are unable to run smoothly with pure gasoline which causes engine knocking, as vehicles traveling to neighboring South American countries have demonstrated. Only two models are built with a flex-fuel engine optimized to operate also with pure gasoline (E0), the Renault Clio Hi-Flex and the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel.

The flexibility of Brazilian FFVs empower the consumers to choose the fuel depending on current market prices. As ethanol fuel economy is lower than gasoline because of ethanol's energy content is close to 34% less per unit volume than gasoline, flex cars running on ethanol get a lower mileage than when running on pure gasoline. However, this effect is partially offset by the usually lower price per liters of ethanol fuel. As a rule of thumb, Brazilian consumers are frequently advised by the media to use more alcohol than gasoline in their mix only when ethanol prices are 30% lower or more than gasoline, as ethanol price fluctuates heavily depending on the results and seasonal harvests of sugar cane.

In May 2003 Volkswagen built for the first time a production flexible fuel car, the Gol 1.6 Total Flex. Chevrolet followed two months later with the Corsa 1.8 Flexpower, using an engine developed by a joint-venture with Fiat called PowerTrain. By 2008, popular manufacturers that build flexible fuel vehicles are Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Peugeot, Renault ,Volkswagen, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Citröen. Flexible fuel cars were 22% of the new car sales in 2004, 73% in 2005, and reached 87.6% in July 2008. As of August 2008, the fleet of "flex" automobiles and light commercial vehicles had reached 6.2 million vehicles, representing 12% of Brazil's motor vehicle fleet and almost 19% of all registered light vehicles. The rapid success of flex vehicles was made possible by the existence of 33,000 filling stations with at least one ethanol pump available by 2006, a heritage of the early ethanol program. These facts, together with the mandatory use of E25 blend of gasoline throughout the country, allowed Brazil in 2008 to achieve more than 50% of fuel consumption in the gasoline market from sugar cane-based ethanol.

Latest developments

The latest innovation within the Brazilian flexible-fuel technology, is the development of flex-fuel motorcycles. In 2007 Magneti Marelli presented the first motorcycle with flex technology, adapted on a Kasinski Seta 125, and based on the Software Fuel Sensor (SFS) the firm developed for flex-fuel cars in Brazil. Delphi Automotive Systems also presented in 2007 its Multifuel injection technology for motorcycles. Besides the flexibility in the choice of fuels, a main objective of the fuel-flex motorcycles is to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent, and savings in fuel consumption in the order of 5% to 10% are expected. These flex motorcycles will be available in the market by 2009, but AME Amazonas Motocicletas announced that sales of its motorcycle AME GA (G stands for gasoline and A for alcohol) will begin in December 2008. This model is based on the fuel injection technology developed by Delphi.

The Brazilian subsidiaries of Magneti Marelli, Delphi and Bosch have announced the introduction in 2009 of a new flex engine generation that will eliminate the need for the secondary gasoline tank, as flex vehicles will now be able to do a cold engine start at temperatures as low as minus 5° Celsius (23 °F), with new technology that will warm the ethanol fuel during starting. Another improvement is the reduction of fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions, between 10% to 15% as compared to flex motors in use today.



Flexible-fuel vehicles were introduced in Sweden as a demonstration test in 1994, when three Ford Taurus were imported to show the technology existed. Because of the existing interest, a project was started in 1995 with 50 Ford Taurus E85 flexifuel in different parts of Sweden: Umea, Örnsköldsvik, Härnösand, Stockholm, Karlstad, Linköping, and Växjö. Between 1997 to 1998 an additional 300 Taurus were imported, and the number of E85 fueling grew to 40. Then in 1998 the city of Stockholm placed an order for 2,000 of FFVs for any car manufacturer willing to produce them. The objective was to jump-start the FFV industry in Sweden. The two domestic car makers Volvo Group and Saab AB refused to participate arguing there were not in place any ethanol filling stations. However, Ford Motor Company took the offer and began importing the flexifuel version of its Focus model, delivering the first cars in 2001, and selling more than 15,000 FFV Focus by 2005, then representing an 80% market share of the flexifuel market.

In 2005 both Volvo and Saab introduced to the Sweden market their flexifuel models. Saab began selling its 9-5 2.0 Biopower, joined in 2006 by its 9-5 2.3 Biopower. Volvo introduced its S40 and V50 with flexible-fuel engines, joined in late 2006 by the new C30. All Volvo models were initially restricted to the Sweden market, until 2007, when these three models were launched in eight new European markets. In 2007, Saab also started selling a BioPower version of its popular Saab 9-3 line. In 2008 the Saab-derived Cadillac BLS was introduced with E85 compatible engines, and Volvo launched the V70 with a 2.5-litre turbocharged Flexifuel engine. All flexible-fuel vehicles in Sweden use E-75 fuel instead of E-85 during the winter to avoid engine starting problems during cold weather.

Sweden has achieved the largest E85 flexible-fuel vehicle fleet in Europe, with a sharp growth from 717 vehicles in 2001 to 116,695 by July 2008. The recent and accelerated growth of the Swedish fleet of E85 flexifuel vehicles, as they are popularly known, is the result of the National Climate Policy in Global Cooperation Bill passed in 2005, which not only ratified the Kyoto Protocol but also sought to meet the 2003 EU Biofuels Directive regarding targets for use of biofuels, and also let to the 2006 government's commitment to eliminate oil imports by 2020.

In order to achieve these goals several government incentives were implemented. Ethanol, as the other biofuels, were exempted of both, the CO2 and energy taxes until 2009, resulting in a 30% price reduction at the pump of E85 fuel over gasoline. Furthermore, other demand side incentives for flexifuel vehicle owners include a USD 1,800 bonus to buyers of FFVs, exemption from the Stockholm congestion tax, up to 20% discount on auto insurance, free parking spaces in most of the largest cities, ower annual registration taxes, and a 20% tax reduction for flexifuel company cars. Also, a part of the program, the Swedish Government ruled that 25% of their vehicle purchases (excluding police, fire and ambulance vehicles) must be alternative fuel vehicles. By the first months of 2008, this package of incentives resulted in sales of flexible-fuel cars representing 25% of new car sales.

On the supply side, since 2005 the gasoline fulling stations selling more than 3 million liters of fuel a year are required to sell at least one type of biofuel, resulting in more than 1,200 gas stations selling E85 by August 2008. Despite all the sharp growth of E85 flexifuel cars, by 2007 they represented just 2% of the 4 million Swedish vehicle fleet. In addition, this law also mandated all new filling stations to offer alternative fuels, and stations with an annual volume of more than 1 million liters are required to have an alternative fuel pump by 31 December 2009. Therefore, the number of E85 pumps is expected to reach by 2009 nearly 60% of Sweden’s 4,000 filling stations.

The Swedish-made Koenigsegg CCXR, a version of the CCX, is currently the fastest and most powerful flexible fuel vehicle with its twin-supercharged V8 producing 1018 hp when running on biofuel, as compared to 806 hp on 91 octane US unleaded gasoline.

Other European countries

Bioethanol E85 stations
Country Number
As of
1,200 2008-07 131.26
219 2008-09 2.67
211 2008-05 3.27
40 2008-06 5.27
29 2008-08 5.84
21 2008 0.34
11 2008 2.30
8 2007-12 0.18
5 2008 0.30
Flexifuel vehicles are sold in 18 European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Ford, Volvo, and Saab are the main automakers offering flexifuel automobiles in these countries.
Biofuel cars in general get strong tax incentives in France, including a 0 or 50% reduction on the tax on new vehicles, and a 50% reduction on CO2 tax for new cars. For company cars there is a corporate car tax free for 2 years and a recovery of 80% of the value added tax (VAT) on E85 vehicles. Also, E85 fuel price is set significantly lower than diesel or gasoline, resulting in E85 at 0.80, diesel at 1.15, and gasoline at 1.30 per liter, as of April 2007. By May 2008, France had 211 pumps selling E85, even though the government made plans for the installation of up to 500 E85 pumps by year end 2007. French automakers Renault and PSA (Citroen & Peugeot) announced they will start selling FFV cars beginning in the summer 2007.
Biofuel emphasis in Germany is on biodiesel, and no specific incentives have been granted for E-85 flex-fuel cars, however there is complete exemption of taxes on all biofuels while there is a normal tax of 0.65 per liter of petroleum fuels. The distribution of E85 began in 2005, and with 219 stations as of September 2008, Germany ranks second after Sweden with the most E85 fueling stations in the EU. As of January 2008 retail prices of E85 was 0.95 per liter, and gasoline was priced at 1.37 per liter (for petrol RON 95), then providing enough margin to compensate for ethanol's lower fuel economy. Ford has offered the Focus since August 2005 in Germany. Ford is about to offer also the Mondeo and other models as FFV versions between 2008 and 2010. The Saab 9-5#E85 and Saab 9-3 Biopower, the Peugeot 308 Bioflex, the Citroen C4 Bioflex, the Audi A5, two models of the Cadillac BLS, and five Volvo models are also available in the German market by 2008.

Ireland is the third best seller European market of E85 flex-fuel vehicles, after Sweden and France. Bioethanol (E85) in Ireland is made from whey, a waste product of cheese manufacturing. The Irish government established several incentives, including a 50% discount in vehicle registration taxes (VRT), which can account for more than one third of the retail price of a new car in Ireland (around 6,500). The bioethanol element of the E85 fuel is excise-free for fuel companies, allowing retail prices to be low enough to offset the 25 per cent cut in fuel economy that E-85 cars offer, due to ethanol's lower energy content than gasoline. Also, the value added tax (VAT) on the fuel can also be claimed back. E-85 fuel is available across the country in more than 20 of Maxol service stations. In October 2005, the 1.8 Ford Focus FFV became the first flexible-fuel vehicle to be commercially sold in Ireland. Later Ford launched the C-max and the Mondeo flexifuel models. Saab and Volvo also have E85 models available.
United Kingdom
The UK government established several incentives for E85 flex-fuel vehicles. These include a fuel duty rebate on E85 fuel of 20 p per liter, until 2010; a £ 10 to 15 reduction in the vehicle excise duty (VED); and a 2% annual company car tax discount for flex-fuel cars. Despite the small number of E85 pump stations available, limited to the Morrisons supermarket chain stations, most automakers offer in the UK their models available in the European market. In 2005 the Ford Focus Flexi-Fuel became the first flexible-fuel car sold in the UK, though E85 pumps opened until 2006. Volvo now offers its flexifuel models S80, S40, C30, V50 and V70. Other models available in the UK are the C-Max Flexi-Fuel, and the Saab models 9-5 and 9-3 Flex-Fuel Biopower, and the new Saab Aero X BioPower Common ethanol fuel mixtures#E100 bioethanol.

United States

E85 FFVs Manufactured and in Use
in the United States 1998-2008*
Year Light-Duty
E85 FFVs
E85 FFVs
Total fleet
E85 FFVs
in use
1998 261,165 171,422 171,422
1999 426,724 357,450 528,872
2000 600,832 528,315 1,057,187
2001 581,774 533,458 1,590,645
2002 834,976 793,575 2,384,220
2003 859,261 837,357 3,221,577
2004 674,678 670,794 3,892,371
2005 735,693 735,693 4,628,064
2006 866,194 866,194 5,494,258
2007 974,095 974,095 6,468,353
Aug 2008* 793,354* 793,354* 7,289,908
Note: * Data until August 2008. ** Net increase is new FFVs
manufactured discounted by the survival rate.
Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
In 2007 there were over 6 million E85 flex fuel vehicles running on the US roads, up from almost 5 million in 2005. E-85 ethanol is used in gasoline engines modified to accept such higher concentrations of ethanol, and the fuel injection is regulated through a dedicated sensor, which automatically detects the amount of ethanol in the fuel, allowing to adjust both fuel injection and spark timing accordingly to the actual blend available in the vehicle's tank. The American E85 flex fuel vehicle was developed to run on any mixture of unleaded gasoline and ethanol, anywhere from 0% to 85% ethanol by volume. Both fuels are mixed in the same tank, as the E85 is sold already blended. In order to avoid problems starting the engine during cold weather, the maximum blend of ethanol was set to 85%. There is also a seasonal reduction of the ethanol content to E70 in very cold regions, where temperatures fall below 10 °F (-12 °C) during the winter.

E-85 flex-fuel vehicles are becoming increasingly common in the Midwest, where corn is a major crop and is the primary feedstock for ethanol fuel production. Also the US government has been using flex-fuel vehicles for many years. By 2008 almost any type of automobile and light duty vehicles is available in the market with the flex-fuel option, including sedans, vans, SUVs and pick-up trucks.

A 2005 survey found that 68% of American flex-fuel car owners were not aware they owned an E85 flex. This is due to the fact that the exterior of flex and non-flex vehicles look exactly the same; there is no sale price difference between them; the lack of consumer's awareness about E85s; and also the decision of American automakers of not putting any kind of exterior labeling, so buyers can be aware they are getting an E85 vehicle. In contrast, all Brazilian automakers clearly mark FFVs with badging or a high quality sticker in the exterior body, with a logo with some variant of the word Flex. Since 2006 many new FFV models in the US feature a bright yellow gas cap to remind drivers of the E85 capabilities, and GM is also using badging with the text "Flexfuel/E85 Ethanol" to clearly mark the car as an E85 FFV.

Some critics have argued, including U.S. Representative Jay Inslee, that American automakers have been producing E85 flex models motivated by a loophole in the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirements, that allows for a fuel economy credit for every flex-fuel vehicle sold, whether or not in practice these vehicles are fueled with E85. This loophole might allow the car industry to meet the CAFE targets in fuel economy just by spending between USD 100 to USD 200 that it cost to turn a conventional vehicle into a flex-fuel, without investing in new technology to improve fuel economy, and saving them the potential fines for not achieving that standard in a given model year. In an example presented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency responsible for establishing the CAFE standards, the special treatment provided for alternative fuel vehicles, "turns a dual fuel vehicle that averages 25 mpg on gasoline or diesel... to attain the 40 mpg value for CAFE purposes." The current CAFE standards are 27.5 mpg for automobiles and 22.2 mpg for light-duty trucks." In late 2007, CAFE standards received their first overhaul in more than 30 years through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and now are set to rise to 35 mpg by the year 2020.

A major restriction hampering sales of E85 flex vehicles or fulling with E85, is the limited infrastructure available to sell E85 to the public, as by July 2008 there were only 1,706 gasoline filling stations selling E85 to the public in the entire US, with a great concentration of E85 stations in the Corn Belt states, lead by Minnesota with 353 stations, the most that any other state, followed by Illinois with 181, and Wisconsin with 114. The main constraint for a more rapid expansion of E85 availability is that it requires dedicated storage tanks at filling stations, at an estimated cost of USD 60,000 for each dedicated ethanol tank. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed into law by President Bush on 8 August 2005, in its Section 701 requires the federal government's fleet of vehicles capable of operating on alternative fuels to be operated on these fuels exclusively, unless a waiver is granted if the alternative fuel is not reasonably available; or if the cost of the fuel required is unreasonably more expensive compared to gasoline. The Federal vehicle fleet consists of 650,000 vehicles, of which 121,778 are alternative fuel vehicles, mostly E85s.

Because ethanol contains close to 34% less energy per unit volume than gasoline, E85 FFVs have a lower mileage per gallon than gasoline. However, this lower energy content does not translate directly into a 34% reduction in miles per U.S. gallon, because there are many other variables that affect the performance of a particular fuel in a particular engine, though for E85 the effect becomes significant. E85 will produce lower mileage than gasoline, and actual performance may vary depending on the vehicle. Based on EPA tests for all 2006 E85 models, the average fuel economy for E85 vehicles was 25.56% lower than unleaded gasoline. The EPA-rated mileage of current American flex-fuel vehicles could be considered when making price comparisons, though E85 has octane rating of about 104 and could be used as a substitute for premium gasoline. Regional retail E85 prices vary widely across the US, with more favorable prices in the Midwest region, where most corn is grown and ethanol produced. In August 2008 the US average spread between the price of E85 and gasoline was 16.9%, while in Indiana was 35%, 30% in Minnesota and Wisconsin, 19% in Maryland, 12 to 15% in California, and just 3% in Utah. Depending of the vehicle capabilities, the break even price of E85 has to be between 25 to 30% lower than gasoline. (See price comparisons for most states at

Latest developments

The BioFuels Security Act is a proposed legislative Act of Congress (bill) intended to phase out current single-fueled vehicles (fossil fuel vehicles) in favor of flexible-fuel vehicles. Under this proposal, contemporary single-fuel vehicles would cease production in 2016 . Also the E85 and Biodiesel Access Act introduced by Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL), be included in any energy legislation that may be approved during this session of Congress. Currently the IRS limits the tax credit only to the amount a duel fuel dispenser exceeds the cost of a conventional dispenser. The E85 and Biodiesel Access Act would increase the credit from 30 percent of the cost of clean fueling property to 50 percent and increase the maximum credit to $100,000. This law would also extend the existing credit which is scheduled to expire at the end of 2009. Also both major Presidential candidates and several members of the United States Congress have recently called for mandatory production of flexible fuel vehicles.

Chrysler, GM, and Ford have each pledged to manufacture 50 percent of their entire vehicle line as flexible fuel in model year 2012, if enough fueling infrastructure develops. The new plug-in series-hybrid vehicle Chevrolet Volt by General Motors, expected to be launched in the North American market in 2010, will take advantage of the E-Flex technology used today in GM's E-85 flex cars as one of the options that will be developed to recharge the batteries.

Other countries


In January 2007 GM brought UK-sourced Saab 9-5#E85 E85 flex-fuel vehicles to Australia as a trial, in order to measure interest in ethanol-powered vehicles in the country. Saab Australia placed the vehicles with the fleets of the Queensland Government, the media, and some ethanol producers. E85 is not available widely in Australia, but the Manildra Group provided the E85 blend fuel for this trial.

Saab Australia became the first car maker to produce a E85 flex-fuel car for the Australian market with the Saab 9-5 BioPower. One month later launched the new 9-3 BioPower, the first vehicle in Australia to give drivers a choice of three fuels, E85, diesel or gasoline, and both automobiles are sold for a small premium. Australia's largest independent fuel retailer, United Petroleum, announced plans to install Australia's first commercial E85 fuel pumps, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne.


As part of the North American auto market, by 2007 Canada had available 51 models of E85 flex-vehicles, most from Chrysler, Ford Motor Company and General Motors, including automobiles, pickup trucks, and SUVs. The country has around 600,000 capable flex fuel E85s on the roads by early 2008, however, most users are not aware they own an E85, as vehicles are not clearly labeled as such, and only the newer models have a yellow cap in the fuel tank informing that the vehicle can handle E85. Another major restriction for greater E85 fuel use is the fact that by June 2008 Canada had only three public E85 pumps, all located in Ontario, in the cities of Guelph, Chatham, and Woodstock. E85 fueling is available primarily for fleet vehicles, including 20 government refueling stations not available for the public. The main feedstocks for E85 production in Canada are corn and wheat, and there are several proposals being discussed to increase the actual use of E85 fuel in FFVs, such as creating an ethanol-friendly highway or ethanol corridor.

New Zealand

In 2006 New Zealand began a pilot project with two E85 Ford Focus Flexi-Fuel evaluation cars. The main feedstock used in New Zealand for ethanol production is whey, a by-product of milk production.


Paraguayan officials and businessmen began negotiations in 2007 with Brazilian automakers in order to import flex cars that run on any blend of gasoline and ethanol. If successful, Paraguay would become the first destination for Brazilian flex-fuel car exports. In May 2008, the Paraguayan government announced a plan to eliminate import taxes of flex-fuel vehicles. The plan also includes the purchase of 20,000 flex cars in 2009 for the government fleet.


In 2006, the Thai government provided tax incentives for the introduction of compressed natural gas (CNG) as an alternative fuel, by eliminating import duties and lowering excise taxes on CNG-compatible cars. Then in 2007, Thai authorities approved incentives for the production of "eco-cars", with the goal of the country to become a regional hub for the production of small, affordable and fuel-efficient cars. Seven automakers joint in the program, Toyota, Suzuki, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda, Tata and Volkswagen. Now in 2008 the government announced priority for E85, expecting these flex-fuel vehicles to become widely available in Thailand in 2009, three years ahead of schedule. The incentives include cuts in excise tax rates for E85-compatible cars and reduction of corporate taxes for ethanol producers to make sure E85 fuel supply will be met. This new plan however, brought confusion and protests by the automakers which sign-up for the "eco-cars", as competition with the E85 flex-fuel cars will negatively affect their ongoing plans and investments, and their production lines will have to be upgraded at a high cost for them to produce flex-fuel cars. They also complained that flex-fuel vehicles popular in a few countries around the world, limiting their export potential as compared with other engine technologies.

Comparison among the leading markets

Comparison of key characteristics among the leading
ethanol flexible-fuel vehicle markets
Characteristic Units/comments
Type of flexible-fuel vehicle (fuel used) E20 to E100 E85 E85 Brazil's minimum mandatory blend is E20-E25. Winter E85 is actually E70 in the US and E75 in Sweden.
Main feedstock used for ethanol consumption Sugar cane 80% imported Maize In 2007, most Swedish ethanol was imported, with a high share of sugar cane ethanol from Brazil.
Total flex-fuel fleet 6.2 million 116,000 7.3 million(1) Brazil and US as of August 2008, Sweden as of July 2008.
Share of flex-fuel vehicles as % of total registered 12% 2.9% 2.8% Brazil's fleet is 50 mi (March 2008), Sweden fleet is 4 mi (2007), and US fleet is 244 mi (2007).
Ethanol fueling stations in the country 33,000 1,200 1,766 Brazil for 2006, Sweden and the US as of August 2008.
Ethanol filling stations as % of total 100% 30% 1% As % of total fueling gas stations in the country. Data for same years as above.
Ethanol fueling stations per million inhabitants 175.8 130.4 5.8 See List of countries by population. Brazil and US as of 2008-09-12, and Sweden as of 2008-06-30.
Retail price of E85 or Common ethanol fuel mixtures#E100 (local currency/unit) R$ 1.259/lt SEK 8.79/lt US$ 2.60/gal Prices at selected regions.(2)São Paulo, Jun 2008, Sweden, Jan 2008, and Minnesota, Aug 2008.
Retail price of gasoline or Common ethanol fuel mixtures#E25. (local currency/unit) R$ 2.385/lt SEK 11.99/lt US$ 3.70/gal Prices in São Paulo (Common ethanol fuel mixtures#E25), Jun 2008, Sweden, Jan 2008, and Minnesota, Aug 2008.
Price economy ethanol/gasoline price as % 47.2%(2)(3) 26.7%(3) 29.7%(2)(3) São Paulo, June 2008, Sweden January 2008, and Minnesota, August 2008.
Notes: (1)The effective number of E85 flex vehicles in US roads actually using ethanol fuel is lower than shown, as a survey have shown than 68% of E85 owners are not aware they own a flex-fuel vehicle. A 2007
national survey found that only 5% of drivers actually use biofuels. (2) Regional prices vary widely in Brazil and the US. The states chosen reflect some of the lowest retail prices for ethanol, as both São Paulo and
Minnesota are main growers of feedstock and producers of ethanol, hence, the comparison presented is one of the most favorable for ethanol/gasoline price ratios. For example, US average spread was 16.9% in
August 2008, and it varied from 35% in Indiana to 3% in Utah. See more US price comparisons for most states at, and annual fuel costs for 2008 FFV US models at
(3) Brazilian gasoline is heavily taxed (~54%), US ethanol production is subsidized (a US$ 0.51/gal federal tax credit), and Swedish E85 is exempt of CO2 and energy taxes until 2009 (~30% price reduction).

List of currently-produced flexible fuel vehicles




United States

See also


External links

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