Citing fuel-economy benefits, automakers push for 91 octane gas

April 17, 2018

Touting lower greenhouse gas emissions and higher fuel economy, Detroit's automakers want the U.S. to boost its octane.

GM, Ford, and FCA are working with the U.S. Council for Automotive Research on a plan to switch from the three octane choices at most pumps to just one: 91 octane. Such a move would put the U.S. in line with Europe, which uses a different measurement that works out to the equivalent of 91 octane.

Automotive News reported that Dan Nicholson, GM’s vice president of global propulsion systems, said in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee last week that even though premium unleaded currently costs around 50 cents more per gallon than regular at most pumps, moving to 95 octane would cost consumers far less.

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Nicholson also said during a panel discussion at SAE International WCX World Congress Experience in Detroit  that 95 octane would allow for a 3 percent fuel economy improvement for less than a 3 percent increase in the cost of fuel.

David Filipe, Vice President of Ford’s powertrain engineering, speaking on the same panel as Nicholson, said that Ford believes that the price of 91 octane needs to be affordable to not have a big financial impact on consumers. Filipe said that the cost of of 91 octane should not add more than 5 cents per gallon.

Improving fuel economy has been an expensive and difficult process for automakers.

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While a three percent boost might seem small, other ways that automakers have boosted fuel economy have involved the development of expensive new technologies including downsized, direct-injected engines, stop-start systems, lighter vehicle bodies and eight, nine and 10 speed transmissions. Putting a new standard of fuel into place would cost far less than what has been spent on these technologies.

Refineries not having to produce various octane levels would help put some of the cost savings of making the 91 octane standard come into play. They would be able to focus on making large amounts of one fuel by using one of several ways to boost octane. Options to boost octane include raising the amount of ethanol used in fuel production or lowering the amount of heptane mixed into fuel.

Raising octane helps vehicle engines run more efficiently by allowing engineers to raise an engine’s compression ratio which in turn raises horsepower and torque.

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