Despite the governor’s pretty language abot alternative fuels and efforts to create a partnership with Sweden for the development of alternative fuel use in Michigan, the state is still nowhere near where it should be in terms of use of alternative fuels. The reasons are simple and complex all at the same time. People don’t want to buy vehicles which use alternative fuels if they can’t buy that fuel at the local store and local stores don’t want to carry a product that no one is buying.   On a website for Ford Truck enthusiasts,  one consumer said he would love to have a biodiesel truck or a flex fuel Ford Ranger, but even with the incentives the state has adopted to promote the use of these fuels, they are not generally available at the corner store.
In addition, Michigan’s incentives, such as a 12 cents per gallon sales tax credit on some alternative fuels, do not account for market fluctuations that are inherent in a system that relies on only ethanol and oil fuels. In the worst conditions, extreme versions of the summer of 2007, a drought in major corn-producing states could raise the price of ethanol and OPEC production games can increase the price of gasoline.
Because biodiesel and other alternative fuels are not easily used in most vehicles, consumers are still caught in a Catch-22. Switching to one alternative fuel does not make it readily available. With diversification as the car manufacturers look for more efficient ways to propel their vehicles and save the environment,  consumers cannot be assured that their “alternative fuel” vehicle of today is not going to be an obsolete paperweight with no fuel available in just a few years.

The sad thing is that for all the attacks on the automotive industry, Michigan and automakers are trying to come up with a solution for the environment and for business. Unfortunately, the businesses and researchers can’t agree on what the best alternative fuel source is.  Ethanol relies of the growing season, propane is still a fossil fuel and methane is difficult to transport safely. Biodiesel, a form of heavy vegetable oil, also requires good crops. With shifting weather patterns across the globe, manufacturers are loathe to rely on a system which necessitates a good growing season. Furthermore, many activists are now arguing that the farmland used to create corn and soy beans for use in alternative fuels further contributes to the global warming problem by destroying farmland.
In short, Michigan is trying to address the alternative fuel needs of the state and the country, but until the technology and production capability meet, consumers are less likely to buy into the alternative fuel option than officials would like. Hybrids are popular, but largely unproven in terms of long-term mechanical durability and alternative fuel cars just aren’t attractive for mass consumption. Until Michigan can do something about the supply chain for alternative fuels and the reliability of cars built to use them, the alternative fuels effort in Michigan will be strong, but not terribly effective.

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