sheetz customers shy away from e85

First year of ethanol gasoline sales prove less than impressive.

Pennsylvania motorists aren’t exactly lining up at the pumps for E85, especially at Sheetz.

More than a year has passed since Sheetz gas stations in Monroeville, Pleasant Hills and Robinson, Pa. switched diesel pumps over to the blend, and each of the three locations is selling less than half the volume that those pumps turned out before they were converted to E85, according to the Pittsburg Tribune-Review.

According to Louie Sheetz, the company’s executive vice president of marketing, the problem is a lack of knowledge.

“There’s a low level of interest in E85, a low level of understanding,” said Sheetz at a forum on the fuel held earlier this week at Carnegie Mellon University. “It will be a gradual learning experience for consumers.”

Despite the fact that ethanol production throughout the country this year is expected to reach 7.8 billion gallons, which is 300 million gallons above the 2012 target set by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, customers still haven’t found their way over to the E85 pumps.

Mary Beth Stanek, GM’s director of environment, energy and safety policy, estimates there are about 100,000 flexible fuel vehicles in Pennsylvania alone, with 6.5 million nationwide.

“We’re not saying that ethanol is it,” Stanek said. “We’re doing a number of things, also developing more fuel efficient models, (gasoline and electric-powered) hybrids, fuel cells and all-electrics.”

In the meantime, to help gain consumer confidence in E85 program, retailers try to keep its price below that of petroleum-based gasoline. Sheetz’s, who spent $150,000 to bring the product to stores, price E85 at 20 percent less than gasoline, or currently in the $2.30-a-gallon range.

“We will do other stations (adding E85 pumps), but it will be gradual,” Sheetz said. “There needs to be more customer awareness. People need to be educated.”

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