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Flex-fuel vehicle numbers jump in state, area

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Toledoan Andrea Nocella uses E85 for her commute to Monroe.

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The number of vehicles that can run on E85 ethanol fuel in northwest Ohio has nearly doubled in the last year as more so-called flex-fuel models become available, new figures show.

Since this time last year, both Lucas and Fulton counties had a more than 150 percent increase in the number of registered flex-fuel vehicles, which can run on E85, regular gasoline, or a combination, according to Clean Fuels Ohio.

E85 contains 85 percent ethanol, a fuel made from corn that is being heavily promoted by General Motors Corp. and its Big Three counterparts as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Still, few people ask about or seem aware of flex-fuel vehicles, so the increase likely isn't because of customer demand, said Tony Dishop, general sales manager at McNeill Chevrolet Pontiac Buick in Swanton.

"I'm going to bet it's because all the manufacturers are putting it on more of their vehicles," he said. "At this point, it's our job to make people aware of it."

At Charlie's Dodge Inc. in Maumee, customer questions were more frequent when gas prices were high and E85 costs were considerably lower, but little mention has been made in the last month, said Ken Millen, new vehicle sales manager.

"It's like anything, people get caught up with it," he said.

Eighteen flex-fuel vehicles were available in the 2005 model year and 23 in the 2006 model year, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

Statewide, the number of registered flex-fuel vehicles increased 81 percent to 199,331, of which 24,959 were in northwest Ohio, according to Clean Fuels Ohio. Ohio has more than 12 million registered vehicles, so flex-fuel vehicles represent a small portion of the total, it said.

Areas where people work for GM, Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler AG and that have a higher mix of new vehicle sales seem to have the highest concentrations of flex-fuel vehicles, said Sam Spofforth, executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio.

Cuyahoga County has the highest number of flex-fuel vehicles at 23,637, a 121 percent increase from last year, the group said.

Locally, all counties posted gains in the number of such vehicles, and Allen and Hancock had nearly 150 percent jumps. Plus, the number of such vehicles in Erie, Henry, and Defiance counties increased at a higher rate than the statewide average.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.

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