E85 stars in GM’s ’07 lineup

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If you like the idea of homegrown fuel, you’ll be pleased to learn that, for ’07, General Motors will add the Chevrolet Uplander, Express and GMC Savana vans to its FlexFuel, or E85-capable line of vehicles. The new entries will join the Chevrolet Avalanche, Impala, Monte Carlo, Silverado, Suburban, Tahoe, Police Tahoe, and the GMC Sierra, Yukon and Yukon XL, which already are available in FlexFuel versions.

E85 is 15 percent unleaded gasoline and 85 percent ethanol, or ethyl alcohol. That’s right, it’s good old C2H5OH – the same stuff adults sometimes consume for, uh, medicinal purposes. So it can be derived from corn, rice, potatoes – anything used to make your favorite hooch. And, that being the case, it’s infinitely renewable, and has the potential to abolish our slavery to foreign oil.

Currently, ethanol is made from corn, and naysayers to the concept claim that, even if all the corn grown in America were used to produce the stuff, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to slake our thirst for fuel. “That’s true,” says GM Fleet & Commercial general manager Brian McVeigh. “But ethanol can also be made from sugar cane, sugar beets, or even sawgrass.” He went on to offer Brazil, where sugar cane and ethanol are plentiful, as a model. “The country is now completely unreliant on foreign oil,” he says. To say nothing of the fact that E85 burns cleaner and produces lower tailpipe emissions than straight gas.

The Chevy Uplander is powered by a 3.9-liter, variable-valve-timing V6 that delivers 240 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, while the Express and Savana get the same 5.3-liter Vortec V8 that powers the Silverado and Sierra full-size pickups. It makes 295 hp and 335 lb-ft. of torque. Both are mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission.

Both engines have cast iron blocks and aluminum heads, along with a composite intake manifold, electronic throttle control and high-silicon molybdenum, cast, nodular iron exhaust manifolds. They also come with extended life spark plugs, extended life coolant and the GM Oil Life System, which senses oil condition, and tells the operator how much useful life the oil has, via a dash display.

The engines can run on E85 or straight gasoline and, thanks to sensors and an electronic control unit, they know which fuel is being burned, and make the necessary adjustments automatically. Don’t feel like looking for a station that serves E85? Just fill up with unleaded. Or, if you want to be environmentally correct, visit this site for a list of stations, state by state, that carry the blend.

To anyone thinking of buying any of the GM vehicles listed above, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t go for FlexFuel capability – especially, since it’s a no-cost option, and it’s totally transparent. That seems to be GM’s thinking, too, and according to McVeigh, the company will have nearly two million FlexFuel vehicles on the road by the end of the year, and he predicts that, within the next five to 10 years, the infrastructure will grow, and E85 will be “much, much bigger.”

I’m for that. Slainte!