by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.
December 31, 2004
National Public Radio (R)
SHOW: Morning Edition 10:00 AM EST NPR
December 14, 2004 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Fuel options in Brazil
ANCHORS: RENEE MONTAGNE
REPORTERS: MARTIN KASTE
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Time now for some business news.
With gas prices hovering around $2 a gallon, American drivers probably
wish they could go bargain hunting for a cheaper kind of fuel. That is
possible in Brazil, which has introduced a technology called flex-fuel.
It allows cars to run on either gasoline or alcohol. Flex fuel is
rapidly becoming the norm, giving Brazilian drivers the freedom to shop
for the best deal. NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Rio de Janeiro.
MARTIN KASTE reporting:
Brazil has long been a pioneer in alternative fuels. That's obvious
from the variety of pumps at the average filling station.
(Soundbite of pump)
KASTE: There are often four kinds of fuel for sale: gasoline, diesel,
natural gas and alcohol. The alcohol pumps are a legacy of a 1980s
government program that sought to embrace imported oil with fuel brewed
from homegrown sugarcane. For a time, almost all new cars here ran on
the slightly sweet-smelling fuel, but in the late '80s, a sugar
shortage triggered rationing and long lines at the alcohol pumps, at
the same time oil prices and gasoline prices were falling. Filling
station attendant Carlos Perera(ph) says these experience soured
Brazilians on the idea of alternative fuel.
Mr. CARLOS PERERA: (Foreign language spoken)
KASTE: `Everyone who had an alcohol car was stuck. So people went back
to buying gasoline cars,' Perera says, but now a decade later, he says
customers are once again stopping at the alcohol pumps.
(Soundbite of vehicle starting up)
KASTE: This so-called flex fuel engine is the reason why. A year and a
half ago, the multinational companies that build cars in Brazil started
selling models that burn gasoline or alcohol or any mixture of the two.
It's not a new idea. In the US, carmakers offer a handful of flex-fuel
models that burn gasoline or ethanol, but Brazilians have embraced the
technology. Luciana Almeida is a salesman at a Chevrolet dealership in
Mr. LUCIANA ALMEIDA: (Foreign language spoken)
KASTE: `Nowadays, about 40 percent of the new cars we sell are
flex-fuel,' he says, and as soon as Chevrolet converts more models, he
predicts that figure will rise to 80 percent. A big selling point, he
says, is the fact that flex-fuel actually increases a car's power. The
more alcohol you put in the tank, the faster the car accelerates,
something that appeals to speed-loving Brazilians. Sam Russell(ph), an
executive at General Motors of Brazil, says flex-fuel was kick-started
by a government tax break, but he says the changeover is now being
driven by simple consumer demand.
Mr. SAM RUSSELL (Executive, General Motors of Brazil): You know, for
the same amount of money, you could have a car that was all gasoline or
you could have a car that gave you a choice. Why not go with the
choice, not to mention that if you wanted to fill it up with alcohol,
you get better driveability all the way around.
KASTE: But some Brazilians are still reluctant to fill their tanks with
alcohol, even when it's cheaper. Alfredo Ogawa is editor in chief at
Quatro Radas, Brazil's premier car magazine. He says people have bad
memories of alcohol cars that wouldn't start in cool weather.
Mr. ALFREDO OGAWA (Editor In Chief, Quatro Radas): (Through Translator)
I lived through that experience. Trying to start my car early in the
morning, I wanted to kill myself. The alcohol engine has evolved since
then. The flex-fuel isn't a technological wonder. You still have to
fill up a little reserve tank of gasoline to help start the car when
it's cold, and that's annoying.
KASTE: Still, Ogawa says most consumers are reassured by the fact that
flex-fuel lets them go back to gasoline if they don't like alcohol. And
the fuel choices here keep growing. GM is now taking orders for a car
that runs on three fuels: gasoline, alcohol and natural gas. And the
government has just announced a new tax break for a kind of diesel fuel
made from the oil of castor beans and palm trees.
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