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Pay more attention to flex-fuel cars

Marketplace Staff Mar 18, 2008


Doug Krizner: Four dollar a gallon gas has officially hit the shores of Hawaii and Guam. And California is not be far behind. But high prices are just one in a series of issues that surrounds the volatile oil market.

Commentator and global security expert Gal Luft says gasoline-only cars are a big part of the problem.

Gal Luft: Choice is a central part of our economic life. But the one commodity we consume on a daily basis offers us no choice: Transportation fuel.

Practically all of us use fuel made from oil. If the world had an ample supply of cheap oil from stable nations, this would not be a problem. But we don’t, and most analysts expect the oil market to become even more unstable. Yet, we foolishly continue to drive cars that can run only on petroleum.

The average lifespan of an American car is 17 years. So when we put a gasoline-only car on the road today, we automatically sign up for nearly two decades of oil dependence.

We need to protect ourselves against the uncertainties associated with the future of oil. The first thing we should do is to make sure that every new car sold in America that runs on gasoline can also run on something else.

In Brazil, for example, 80 percent of the new cars are flex-fuel vehicles. These cars look and behave exactly like your car, but in addition to gasoline, they can also run on alcohol. The Brazilians use ethanol cheaply made from sugar cane. In China, more and more flex-fuel cars run on another alcohol called methanol.

To make a car flex-fuel would cost an automaker an extra $100 — the cost of one barrel of oil. If it costs so little, why not make fuel flexibility a standard feature? Just like seat belts, air bags, FM radio and rear view mirrors?

Congressional leaders who promise to end our oil addiction and create competition in the transportation fuel market can do this in one stroke of the pen. It would be nice if the next time the president of Iran and Venezuela threatened to send oil to $200 a barrel, we all pour more alcohol into our tanks and remind them that oil is not the only thing that makes the world go around?

Krizner: Gal Luft is an executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. He’s also co-founder of the Set America Free Coalition, an alliance of national security, environmental, labor and religious groups.

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