A recent AAA survey found a likelihood of consumer confusion and the potential for vehicle damage as a result of the Environmental Protection Agency's recent approval of E15 gasoline, though the renewable fuels industry stands by its product.
AAA conducted a telephone survey using a national probability sample of 1,012 American adults to determine consumer knowledge of E15. The survey found 95% of consumers had not heard of E15, which prompted the motorclub to urge retailers to stop selling the product until motorists are better educated and "protected."
The study comes after the EPA's June approval of E15 for commercial use in flex-fuel vehicles and 2001 model year and newer cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles and SUVs. Though the approval granted gas stations the ability to sell the product, AAA says less than 5% of cars on the road are approved by manufacturers to use E15 gasoline.
AAA data compiled by its automotive engineering experts also indicates that sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles could result in significant problems such as accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false "check engine" lights for any vehicle not approved by its manufacturer to use E15.
Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said Friday that AAA's comments have no scientific basis and are "nothing more than hollow criticism lacking any facts to back up the irresponsible claims."
"E15 is the most tested fuel to date and the Department of Energy, a true expert on the matter has studied the fuel extensively, more than six million miles, coming to the conclusion that, 'the resulting Energy Department data showed no statistically significant loss of vehicle performance (emissions, fuel economy, and maintenance issues) attributable to the use of E15 fuel compared to straight gasoline,'" Buis said in a statement.
However, AAA says that unsuspecting customers using E15 could end up with engine problems that could not be covered by warranties.
"It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle," said AAA President & CEO Robert Darbelnet. "Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers."
AAA suggested an outreach campaign to improve consumer knowledge about E15. The group says such a campaign should include more effective pump labels, among other potential safeguards to protect consumers and their vehicles. AAA also recommends additional testing to conclusively determine the impact of E15 use on vehicle engines and fuel system components.
"The sale and use of E15 should be suspended until additional gas pump labeling and consumer education efforts are implemented to mitigate problems for motorists and their vehicles," continued Darbelnet. "Consumers should carefully read pump labels and know their auto manufacturer's recommendations to help prevent any problems from E15."
Though AAA said it supports the development and use of alternative fuels and approves E10 blends, Growth Energy's Buis isn't convinced.
"I am surprised to see an organization so concerned with fuel prices attack a source of American renewable energy that is providing consumers a choice and most importantly, savings at the pump," Buis said. "I think AAA customers are better served when the AAA sticks to what they do best, helping with car troubles and offering travel discounts, rather than using hyperbole and baseless statements on fuel quality – an area in which they have no expertise."