It smells sweet, just like moonshine. But you don't dare drink it.
That's how Automotive News Editor-at-Large Bob Irvin described exhaust fumes from a Brazilian Fiat that burned ethanol made from sugar cane in 1979. Irvin had just returned from Brazil, where that country was beginning its steady drive to ethanol-powered vehicles as an alternative to high-priced gasoline.
I must have led a sheltered life, because I don't know how moonshine smells.
But I do know that smelling like illegal booze wouldn't be enough to get Americans to drive vehicles powered by pure ethanol, especially if you can't drink the stuff because some thoughtless refiner didn't remove all the impurities.
Widespread use of pure alcohol isn't going to happen; you can't even get enough gas stations to install E85 pumps, even with federal tax credits.
It would be just too darned easy to blame Big Oil for the lack of E85 pumps.
But I'll do it anyway.
Big Oil needs to get with the program. But for that to happen, the feds must mandate a minimum number of E85 pumps, just as they mandated lead-free gasoline in the 1970s and low-sulfur diesel fuel - finally - two weeks ago.
Some will argue that we ought to give the tax credits time to work. After all, they're less than a year old. Then we could try a direct subsidy to encourage the installation of more E85 pumps.
But I say forget the carrots and go right to the stick.
Remember: This is Big Oil. (We'll deal with Big Ethanol sometime in the future.)
E85 is not the be-all, end-all solution to our dependence on imported oil. But it might be a useful bit player, at least for a while. For that to happen, it needs to be priced right, and it needs to be available.
Those who think moral suasion, jawboning and tax credits will get the job done either haven't paid attention or have been sniffing exhaust fumes.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]