By on April 28, 2017

1-Ethanol-Gas-006

Higher-octane fuel holds more energy than bargain basement gasoline, giving it the potential to generate more horsepower and deliver highly marketable fuel economy figures to automakers. It should be at the top of every car manufacturer’s wish list. But, because an extra-high octane rating would warrant an extra-large bill at the pump, muscle car owners are left hunting for that one station that sells 94.

Unlike Europe, it’s a low-octane lifestyle here in North America, though hushed, tentative first steps are being taken to give car manufacturers what they so desperately crave.

Still, no automaker wants to say it.

According to the Detroit Free Press, hush-hush work is afoot to develop ultra-premium gasoline grades and internal combustion engines that make the most out of every drop of energy-rich fuel. Oil companies and automakers are both looking to develop a pump-based solution to efficiency and emissions concerns.

With higher-octane gas, automakers could shelve the expensive development of certain gas-saving technologies. After all, who really wants to build a 14-speed automatic?

Speaking to the publication, one anonymous industry executive said the work has been kept quiet because no automaker wants to be seen as carrying the torch for the eventual eradication of cheaper fuel grades.

“Ten cents a gallon more is probably palatable. A quarter risks customer acceptance,” the executive said, adding, “Increasing octane could be the lowest-cost way to raise fuel economy. It costs far less than developing a new transmission, for instance.”

As it stands, neither the oil companies or the automakers have stumbled on a way to make Americans jump up and down with joy at the thought of pricier gas. Even the knowledge that a vehicle running higher octane fuel would go further on a tank and generate more power isn’t enough — at least, at this point — to bring consumers on board.

At the annual banquet of the Society of Automotive Engineers earlier this month, Ford’s technology and engineering head, Raj Nair, mentioned the need for “new fuel formulations” to achieve fuel efficiency goals.

In Europe, tests have shown a 10-percent power gain from 98 octane fuel over a North American premium blend. Still, the jury’s out on how far gas prices would rise if high-octane fuel became the new standard, and motorists with engines that can’t make use of the extra energy potential would likely hold a grudge.

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94 Comments on “Automakers Want Higher Octane Gas and Are Starting to Do Something About It...”


  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but its not that the actual energy in gas is lower in the US vs Europe with like fuels, but that the octane number you see on pumps is calculated differently.

    According to Google, a lot of the world uses the RON (research octane number) rating of a fuel, while in the US (and Canada I think?) uses RON and MON (motor octane number) rating, which is the anti-knock index (AKI). This is what sticker that says “(R+M)/2” on pumps means. Its the formula to get the AKI.

    The MON and RON tests are different, but trying to read how the tests and math differ is beyond me.

    So roughly an 87 or 88 in the US is something like a 95 in Europe. I think. Someone can help me out who is in the industry or a math guru or an engineer…unless you’re on Oregon….!!! ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      “Correct me if I’m wrong, but its not that the actual energy in gas is lower in the US vs Europe with like fuels, but that the octane number you see on pumps is calculated differently.”

      Yes, the reported octane number is different. The energy content between 87 and 91 AKI is the same, the difference is the resistance to ignition. The higher the octane, the harder the fuel is start burning (in simple terms). That’s why higher compression engines need higher octane, it’s so the fuel doesn’t autoignite, like in a diesel.

      From a thermodynamic point of view, the efficiency of the otto cycle is directly related to compression ratio. To run at maximum efficiency you’d want the highest compression ratio possible. That’s strictly looking from a thermodynamic viewpoint. Emissions, durability, material science, drivability etc all come into it and will change the “ideal” compression ratio.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        I’ve always hated the fact that at my altitude they sell only 86/88/90 octane gas but if you fill up with 86 and drive down to sea level you lose a lot of power because the anti-knock sensors dial back the timing of the ignition, thus losing power to the wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          56BelAire

          HDC, here in Utah we have 85(reg), 87(mid) and 91(prem). It’s weird, my ’09 DTS runs fine on 85, but my wife’s ’15 Chrysler 300 V6 needs 87 and even my new lawn mower calls for 87. Our altitude is about 4,800 ft.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I noticed that outside of Zion, I even took a pic of 85 at the pump.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            56BelAire, a few years back, my wife and I went to SLC to admire the Temple and Square, and before heading West on I-80 we topped off the Grand Cherokee’s gas tank, with 91-octane.

            Years ago I learned to always use the highest grade of gas when traveling over long distances.

            Some say it is wasteful, but I’m not taking any chances. When I travel to CA I always load up with 4) 5-gal jugs extra gas in NM or AZ because gas is so much more expensive in CA.

            Ditto when we had the Grand Cherokee. I carried 4) 5-gallon jugs of gas on the hitch-mounted cargo carrier.

          • 0 avatar
            VaderSS

            For naturally aspirated engines, higher elevations mean less cylinder pressure and reduced likelihood of knock. The rule of thumb is that you can safely reduce your fuel octane requirement by one octane point per thousand feet. So 85 octane is perfectly acceptable in place of 87 above 2,000 feet.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The problem is when you drive back down from altitude on the same gas. It’s a problem for those of us who regularly travel between the Rockies and the coast. My car wants at least 91, but the best I can get in mountain Idaho is 89.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    I’ve always read 87 AKI = 91 RON and 91 AKI = 95 RON and 93/94 AKI = 98 RON (these being approximate numbers).

    With that being said, this would be welcome in my state of CA where most of my cars I’ve owned recommend 93 AKI with a minimum of 91 AKI being allowed…I presume I am missing a few horses.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      The approximation is take AKI and add 4 to get RON (i.e. European scale). The RON and MON numbers measure different things, so there isn’t an exact conversion between RON and AKI.

    • 0 avatar
      newenthusiast

      This would mean that most of us are already getting (except in California, which I think tops out at 91) the equivalent of the 98 octane in Europe described in the last paragraph of the article, then?

      • 0 avatar
        Jagboi

        I don’t know about most. Last time I was in Montana the options were 85, 87 and 90. The only place I’ve seen 94 in Chevron stations in BC, most places in my province top out at 91.

        In Europe 95 is the standard fuel(which they call premium) and 98 is the high octane version. Available everywhere, whereas in North America it seems that 91 is the highest “universally available” high octane.

        • 0 avatar
          CarnotCycle

          “Last time I was in Montana the options were 85, 87 and 90. The only place I’ve seen 94 in Chevron stations in BC, most places in my province top out at 91.”

          If all this isn’t confusing enough already, relative octane AKI and operating altitude are interrelated:

          https://mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/6920/can-i-use-lower-octane-fuel-at-high-elevation

        • 0 avatar
          newenthusiast

          “In Europe 95 is the standard fuel(which they call premium) and 98 is the high octane version. Available everywhere, whereas in North America it seems that 91 is the highest “universally available” high octane.”

          Maybe its regional. The only place I’ve driven through or lived where 93 wasn’t available is California. In most of the Eastern states, 93 is available, and when I was younger, I remember Sunoco selling 91, 93, and 97 octane as differently labeled versions of ‘premium’.

          I’ve driven across the US round trip 6 times, although not since 2003, so its possible that states or suppliers have capped the octane now….although I don’t know why.

          • 0 avatar
            mason

            I always assumed it was based on elevation but have no facts to support thst. For example,I’ve never seen anything higher than 91 in Wyoming and northern Colorado yet 93 is available most every place I’ve seen east of the Mississippi.

          • 0 avatar
            Sjalabais

            The trend in Europe is actually going the other way. Here in Norway, I could buy 95, 98 and 100 octane fuel everywhere up until about five years ago. Now with gas stations dying due to improved fuel efficiency and strong competition, and diesel having been the main fuel up until regulators finally admitting it’s producing toxic particles, most gas stations sell only 95 fuel. Can’t really come up with a station nearby that stil has 98…

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        You are mostly right, except for the ethanol that raises octane rating, but lowers the energy value.

        Some of us are old enough to remember when the US used the RON numbers, with 91-92 as “regular”, 95 +/- as mid-grade, and anything 98 and over was premium or “high-test”. Lead was used to settle the octane rating for all grades, but there was no lower energy value (BTUs) additive like ethanol to corrode metal and melt rubber fuel lines.

        RON was research octane number, measured at 600 rpm with no loads to the engine. MON was Motor Octane Number measured with a complete engine at 900 rpm. Except for North America, the entire world uses RON, just as America did years ago.

        The reason it WAS important was because pinging could damage an engine. That’s not going to happen with anti-knock devices, though as noted above, the adjustments lower engine power a significant amount, unless you have a 5+ litre V8.

        Five of my first six cars had big honking V8s, and they ran fine on then-95 octane, about 89 today. The smaller engines today need higher compression to perform cleanly than the big polluting V8s of yesteryear, and that’s what this article is all about.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Good luck with getting it for $0.10 more or even a quarter. 93 vs 87 here is a minimum $0.50 difference and more commonly $0.70-75.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      I pay $0.20 per litre more for 91 vs 87.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Ye gads! that’s 76 cents more per gallon! The litre as a fluid measure is too small, the metre is too long (the Romans had to invent the foot for their engineering marvels), and any error in calculations produces the same number with just a misplaced decimal point, producing an error of a factor of ten – and their decimal point is a comma! This is just another reason why the Metternich system should be outlawed.

        • 0 avatar
          Salzigtal

          http://abload.de/img/picdump366_001sdpk1.jpg
          vs.
          http://weknowmemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/there-are-two-types-of-countries-go-usa.jpg
          Except for Liberia & Myanmar

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      It would be a dime if the volumes of premium equaled the current volumes of regular. With the current low sales of higher octane fuels the cost of inventory, delivery and storage raise the costs to the 40 – 60 cents current differential.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Depending on additives added, like Chevron or Shell, the difference between grades can be as much as 30-cents per gallon.

        So, 86-octane may run $1.909 per gallon, but 91-octane could be as much as $2.509 per gallon for E10 gas.

        Off-brand gas stations are significantly less per gallon and less between grades, sometimes only 10-cent difference, sometimes 20-cents.

        A lot depends on far away the refinery is, that drives the cost of gas per gallon. Our closest refinery is 60 miles away, with another 90 miles away.

        So the cost of our gas tends to be higher than those locations fed by a pipeline, instead of resupplied by tanker truck.

        • 0 avatar
          Salzigtal

          We have refineries @ the Contra Costa / Solano county line and a SINGLE bore pipeline that terminates 4 counties South in Santa Clara. I think at least 3 refineries add what they call “matrix” to the North end. I know where the Shell & Chevron yards @ the South end are. They draw “matrix” out, mix in their additives and wholesale the gasoline. What keeps the Shell from mixing with the Chevron on the way South? Nothing. They report to each other how much they add and subtract via their joint pipeline company. The “Metro” issue covering this topic featured a quote from a spokesperson who claimed that when one partner reported 0 input due to maintenance, the others made up the shortfall, but would never raise prices in response to the shortage. Sure.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    “Higher-octane fuel holds more energy than bargain basement gasoline, giving it the potential to generate more horsepower and deliver highly marketable fuel economy figures to automakers”

    -Correct me if I’m wrong, I thought the energy density was the same for different octanes. Higher octanes are more resistant to pre-detonation though so you can run higher compression which can burn the fuel more efficiently?.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      Correct on both counts.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      “Higher octanes are more resistant to pre-detonation”

      That’s the key take away. But higher energy density isn’t entirely wrong though. The higher the octane number, the more double and triple bonds in the hydro-carbon chains. More rings too. These structures, with more energy than single bonds, are harder to break, and thus less susceptible to pre-detonation. And when those double and triple bonds and rings do break, they release their stored energy.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    94 octane gas? Nice, but ‘way too expensive. How about 101 octane racing gas?

    I’d burn camphor if it was clean and cheap enough, and if I didn’t have to drag a hot stove trailer behind my car!

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      It used to be that you could buy AVGAS 105/115 at the pumps at local airports. And I did that for awhile, and mixed it with 86-octane gas to get a higher octane than 90 for some of my old cars.

      But then somewhere during the Clinton era, all that changed, and sales of AVGAS to the general public was outlawed by the feds.

      That was a real shock to aficionados of old Hi-perf cars, like ‘vettes, ‘stangs, Firebirds and Camaros. Not to mention old Euro-classics imported from Germany by military people formerly stationed there, like Porsche, BMW and M-B.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        Avgas had (has?) lead. Damn fine reason not to live just under the flight-paths of a small airport.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          I don’t know about today’s AVGAS since I could not pass the physical for my FAA ticket after I came back from Viet Nam, ’cause I could not control the rudder pedals due to a bum knee.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Anything 100 octane or higher is likely to be leaded.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Sunoco 260 GT and VP100 Street Blaze are two 100 octane (R+M)/2 unleaded gasolines available commercially. I’ve even seen Street Blaze sold from a gas pump for road use in California.

          • 0 avatar
            TR4

            The most common avgas in the USA today is called “100LL” and dyed blue. The “100” is the octane measured under the “aviation lean” method which is roughly like the Motor method. The “LL” means “low lead” because it has about 1/2 the lead of its predecessor, 100 lean/130 rich which was dyed green.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Ethanol raises octane. Ethanol lowers the energy content of gasoline.

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      Doesn’t ethanol also make an engine run cooler though, thereby boosting horsepower?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Ethanol is hardly the only thing which can raise the octane rating of gas.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I believe water injection serves to effectively raise the “octane” rating.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          I had a Chevelle with a GM crate 502. I would add a gallon of E85 when I filled with 91 Octane. I had a really hard time getting rid of the knock at 6k feet above sea level. The E85 helped cool the combustion chamber a bit and eased the knock.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The funny thing is that I can get 89 octane unleaded gasoline or 93 octane E10 here in central Virginia, and 89 octane gasoline is better at everything even in my 11:1 compression ratio engine that was meant for octane ratings of at least 91. It also doesn’t turn into a fire retardant if I leave it in the tank for a couple of months. Too bad it costs more and I have to go to a crummy part of town to get it.

  • avatar
    brn

    The reason automakers want it is that it’ll allow them to make some minor improvements in MPG. The reason I don’t want it is that the MP$ will be significantly worse.

    My Ford Cyclone V6 is very happen and plenty efficient on 87 octane.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Is a vehicle spec’d for premium fuel run on premium for the EPA test, or do they test the “worst case scenario”?

    If the knock sensor(s) is deciding how good the fuel is, and altering the fuel econ and performance to match it, let the customer decide how far up the price ladder they want to spend.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    Or we could pass some common sense legislation with CAFE?

    Nah, that would be way too easy. Bring on the expensive fuel and 12 speed automatics!

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      IKR? Close the light truck classification, lower all of those CUV’s and trim a couple of hundred pounds off of the typical family vehicle today, and that amounts to a huge nation-wide savings. It’s not that increasing efforts to save gas will be more expensive, it’s that the consumption of gas isn’t properly priced today.

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        If you lower the CUV’s to wagon height, my guess is that people will just buy more BOF SUV’s or trucks, and CUV sales will greatly decrease. Sedans and wagons are still made, and the majority of buyers have generally decided they don’t want them.

        That might have the total net effect of making for overall higher avg gas consumption.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          Don’t really know benfits of ethanol, but bad effects I’m a little familiar with.
          From poorer mpg to engine damage, it seems like a totally political power play.

          And I am not sure what the octane of marine fuel is, but I thought just above a mid grade. And my cars run like they are getting premium with both power and MPG.

          So why not stop the scam and give us our gas back

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            Ethanol only damages engines that aren’t designed to accommodate it. You’re correct about MPG, but that would be much better if the engine were designed specifically for Ethanol, rather than to simply accommodate it.

            The key advantage of ethanol is renewabilty. The uninformed will argue that it takes more fuel to make ethanol than it saves you. They’ll also shout some “no food for fuel” garbage. What they don’t understand is that ethanol is making better use of a product that’s being produced anyway. For example a bi-product of ethanol is a healthier feed for cows.

            Ethanol dual purposes corn production, resulting in more efficient use of resources. However, people like to hate, so they don’t want to hear that the hate may be unfounded.

            The biggest downside for Ethanol is shelf life.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Finally, some sensible talk. Thanks, brn.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was always under the assumption that raising the compression ratio in a automobile’s engine increased the volumetric and thermal efficiency making the engine more efficient and increasing mileage. When the compression ratios in American cars were lowered in 1971 to enable them to use unleaded gasoline, mileage dropped. I remember reading an article in Car Life in early 1970 where the editors did a comparison test between two Buicks-the engines in both cars had 4-bbl carbs, one had a low compression for regular gas, the other a high compression engine requiring premium-the high compression engine got better mileage.
    s

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Refining gasoline to higher octane levels gets costlier by the point, like 86-octane may cost x, but raising it one point may be exponentially more expensive.

      Raising it to 95 or 100-octane in the past was done by adding lead, or some other anti-knock additive.

      Can’t do that anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was always under the assumption that raising the compression ratio in a automobile’s engine increased the volumetric and thermal efficiency making the engine more efficient and increasing mileage.”

      That’s correct. The main driver behind reduced compression ratios in the 70’s and 80’s was emissions. High compression ratios raise the combustion temperatures, which in turn raise NOx. The big 3 had inefficient combustion chambers, so rather than rengineer them, they did the quick and simple fix to drop compression as the way to meet emissions. That’s also why in that era we saw vacuum retard (instead of advance) distributors, as a way of reducing combustion temperatures to control NOx.

      • 0 avatar
        thx_zetec

        For most cars (naturally aspirated) it will not improve volumetric efficiency. The benefit is compression ratio, which improves efficiency and power.

        Volumetric efficiency is “the ratio of the volume of fluid actually displaced by a piston or plunger to its swept volume.” This is function of. valve design, intake manifold etc.

  • avatar
    EAF

    110 octane + more boost = much more power sans detonation / pre-ignition.

    Where do I sign up? I miss the local Cam 2 gas station that sold 110 octane. I remember the stuff was priced at something like $9 a gallon!

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      You can still buy hi-octane Racing gas by the 5-gallon can at specialty stores, but these days, people who want a power boost install a tank of nitrous-oxide in the trunk with plumbing to the intake manifold and a boost button under the gas pedal.

      See this a lot in CA at drifting events and stock-car drag-race events.

    • 0 avatar
      mason

      Love me some Cam 2!

  • avatar
    Adam_

    I think everyone is on the money, but in the UK not every filling station offers 98 RON because most cars here don’t really benefit from it. My prince engined Citroen (same as BMW N14/N18 in the Mini and the 1 series) runs fine on either. Only handful benefit because current engine management and lambda systems can bring the igintion right to the point of detonation with less warranty bothering “headroom” than engineers of old had to contend with. My 1986 uncatalysed carburetted Nissan Sunny Twin Cam ran better and gave about 5% better mileage on it back in the day. My uncatalysed carburetted Honda engined lawnmower hates it. They sell it here not on the octane rating so much as detergent aditives which are not included for the EU spec of 95 premium. Given that it can easilly be 10-15% higher price than 95 the jury is still out as to whether it’s worth it. Some people say it keeps the fuel system cleaner if used all the time, my garage says its not worth the hassle of finding it. All cars in tge UK have an annual safety and emission test once they are over three years old and as far as I know using it does not have much effect of emissions. All price competition is on 95, so 98 is not usually even on the roadside price board.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    Separate question/comment from my previous one:

    What is the reason/history for the difference between the Euro and American market octane spread. Why is our floor lower and their ceiling higher? What are the pros and cons of each approach?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      You’ve already said why, the difference between RON and AKI. If you’re asking why we have AKI rated fuels lower than any RON equivalent (like 85 AKI) further up someone posted a like on how higher altitude operation reduces the required octane rating of a given engine.

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        Let me clarify what I am asking:

        Jagboi said that you can roughly take AKI and add 4 to get the equivalent RON number(although he/she said there isn’t really a direct correlation).

        If that’s true, it appears that European gas octanes would be sold at what we could rate as 91, 93/94 and as high as 98 AKI, if they were sold here.

        So, I’m asking why it came to be that most European countries decided to sell higher rated fuels? Was it in response to the needs of the generally smaller engines? Was it a top down regulation and then the engine development followed suit? And why did the Americas not follow that tier system? Or did ours come first?

        I have only recently gotten into knowing what I can about cars, but looking up things on Wikipedia doesn’t give you everything. Maybe someone who is older and/or lived abroad can give me some historical context.

        • 0 avatar
          Adam_

          It’s a huge question but my take is this:

          Car manufactuers and fuel manufacturers have to work together to produce something compatible. At the same time they are looking at their own profitability so change is slow. That can lead to failue in the innovaton market and governments have to step in. Pollution is the classic example. For historical reasons going back to at least Napoleon larger vehicles af any type have attracted tax. Europe did not have a frontier so their governments wouldn’t say “let them move and settle, and when they make money we’ll tax them” America was made on movement. European pre-democracies did not like their population moving about. They may get American style ideas. Crude oil did not spurt out of the ground any here west of the Ukraine. So, both fuel and vehicles are heavilly taxed. That lead to engineers coming up with smaller more efficient engines and cars, but they did not have the understressed longivity of the the Yank Tank. They were also cheaper to sell where living standard were not up to USA levels. WWII made that gap even greater between 1945-55. The emphasis was on short stroke high revving small capacity four cylinder engines. Europeans didn’t add more cubes, they added more bang. That needed higher octane fuel. Secondly Euro waited a lot longer before introducing emssion controls. In the UK unleaded came in 1988, cats in 1991 and mandatory fuel injection in 1997. West germany was being choked to death by east germany do did all of this six years earlier. In that time they had learnt how to emission control engines without losing power. The US automakers had refused to in the early 70’s. They hoped lousy powerless gutless cars would result in some sort of popular revolt against emission controls. They were wrong. The US consumer did not care. The cars were fast enough and even after 1973 and 1979 gas was cheap enough. I remember from my spell in NY as a wayward kid seeing roadside hordings of Ayatollah Khomeini with “fight back drive 55”. How much power did you need? How much octane did you need? We used to have low octaine (91 RON) fuel, and that was fine for your mini or Hillman Hunter with 45-60 Bhp, but emission control those on low octane fuel and even Miss Marple would complain.

          US cars are getting more like European ones. Small four turbos. Don’t last very long, drive well while they work. Every manufacturer here with the exception of Mazda is doing their Ecoboost equivalent. They are hoping to displace (sorry) diesels with them because they produce the torque that customers want and the Euro market is still predominantly stick shift so torque matters. Twenty years ago no one knew what it was or what it meant. 110 bhp + per litre, turbo, phased valve timing and opening, phased injection plus direct injection. These all came to Europe about 5-8 years before the US where they could use the buyers as guinea pigs without having to pay out the punitive damages for unreliability, which do not exist in most EU states, only liquidated damages, and no juries for civil claims. Turbocharging was the exception. The USA were leaders but how many sales did it generate? US buyers shunned complexity. When gas is that cheap, who needs it?

          For these they needed better fuel. So small revvy and explody, high octane. Slow big and lasts forever, whatever you like.

          Hope that helps.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Even the knowledge that a vehicle running higher octane fuel would go further on a tank and generate more power isn’t enough — at least, at this point — to bring consumers on board.”

    Until we screw with emissions again and there is no net gain.

    ““Ten cents a gallon more is probably palatable. A quarter risks customer acceptance,” ”

    25 cents for 10%? My guess is someone already ran the numbers and any gain is negligible, otherwise you would see real traction on this.

    400 gallons annually * .25 = $100.

    400 * .10 = 40 gal saved * 2.50 = $100.

    Even at $5.00/gal we’re talking about $200 savings.

  • avatar
    InTheNameOf

    Correct me if I am wrong… In the example given “10-percent power gain from 98 octane fuel” could only be accomplished if the engine timing or compression was also increased when the octane was increased. Putting higher octane fuel into an engine tuned for a lower octane fuel alone can not give you an increase in efficiency. The higher octane fuel only gives you the opportunity for more power and efficiency, but does not provide it by itself. Higher octane fuel is achieved through additives that have less energy than the fuel itself. Volume for volume higher octane fuel has less energy, but a properly tuned engine with higher compression and more advanced timing would result in more power and efficiency.

  • avatar
    zip89123

    While automakers and some customers like myself would like higher octane gas, most customers will buy the least expensive gas they can find.

  • avatar
    markogts

    So basically, carmakers want to improve apparent mileage to apparently comply with mileage standards and shift the burden to consumers. Clever huh?

    Why not simply stop pretending and start seriously with hybrids, phev and ev?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      Ummm, isn’t a hybrid shifting the burden to consumers as well? I mean a Prius does cost a good bit more than a Corolla. EVs manage to shift this burden to both the consumer and random taxpayers.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        Doesn’t it also cost more to make engines that can withstand the higher forces of higher compression? Such as diesels. Do turbochargers cost nothing?

        The goal is to use less fuel. That’s a cinch for hybrids. This saves money for the driver. Add in lower maintenance on things like brakes. And god forbid you should factor in the environmental and geopolitical implications of using, say, 30% less car fuel.

        Then there’s the Atkinson cycle engines typical in hybrids. I don’t know, but could they be cheaper by being engineered for lower forces?

        The other problem that badly needs addressing is the marketing that convinces consumers that their life is substandard if their car goes from 0-50 in 10 seconds instead of 6. Vast inefficiencies result from this. Tinkering with octane is a smoke screen to conceal deeper issues.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          The deeper issue is that we’re wasting a lot of money that people don’t have to conserve an abundant resource. In fact, there are no other technical issues. The real danger is why there are people who see this as a good idea.

        • 0 avatar
          JuniperBug

          “The other problem that badly needs addressing is the marketing that convinces consumers that their life is substandard if their car goes from 0-50 in 10 seconds instead of 6. Vast inefficiencies result from this. Tinkering with octane is a smoke screen to conceal deeper issues.”

          Exactly this. I was just browsing my theoretical next car purchase, and noticed that the new Civic does 125 MPH and 0-60 in the 6s – one of the cheaper cars you can buy. How often are you going to use that kind of performance? Indeed, when I’m in my cars, which both do 0-60 in about 8 seconds, I’m usually about the fastest thing on the road. There’s so much fuel being wasted in today’s cars on performance that isn’t used.

          I’m fine with that for a Sunday toy. In cars that people dawdle to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic in 5 days a week it just seems like a waste of resources.

          And just like 99% of the rest of the world, I lack the knowledge and data to know how plentiful oil really is. What I do know is that it took millions of years to form and our society has become dependent on consuming it at a crazy rate over the last century, so it stands to reason that it’ll eventually run out. Whether that’ll take 20 years or 150, it seems like a good idea to me not to waste it.

          • 0 avatar
            brandloyalty

            The limitation on the use of fossil fuels will be climate change, not availability. We can’t release millions of years of stored carbon etc. into the remarkably thin atmosphere without drastic consequences. Anyone who believes otherwise has their head in the tarsand. Any new investments in fossil fuel projects are just going to strand vast assets that are needed for the alternatives.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            brandloyalty, I believe we’re going to have our collective heads in the tarsand for the next 4 to 8 years. Maybe even longer.

            That said, if solar and wind have a future, they’ll make it on their own volition, alongside dino juice.

            If they don’t, they’ll go the way of the old roof-mounted solar water heaters. What a bogus venture that was!

            My guess would be that Asia will greatly expand their use of solar and wind. The US not so much.

            We already know that Europe pretty much gave up on solar and wind as an alternative.

          • 0 avatar
            ttacgreg

            By creating demand for fossil fuel’s, I would add this point. One is providing economic support for some fairly sinister operators out there. This would include certain plutocrats, certain terrorist states, and certain unsavory corporations.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            By obstructing development of US oil reserves, I would add this point. One is providing economic support for some fairly sinister operators out there. This would include certain plutocrats, certain terrorist states, and certain unsavory corporations.

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          Brandloyalty

          Sure but the consumer has to buy the expensive battery in the first place. Then the car has to make more power more of the time to compensate for the fat. Cars like the prius and insight can get away with the diminished performance (not just straight line) because that’s what their buyers expect when they buy the mileage. If a car company took that strategy mainstream they could expect to lose customers to better performing, less expensive, conventional competitors. The decline in hybrid sales when gas is cheap is predictable for this reason.

          The atkinson cycle has its own issues. An engine running full time with that injection strategy is often rougher and well underpowered compared to others. Timing and valve lift advancements are bring Atkinson mainstream, but only for part time use where is weaknesses can be hidden. Think of it as akin to cylinder deactivation.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al From 'Murica

          I never said it wasn’t. All of these burdens are bore by the consumer. I was simply pointing out to the OP that passing the buck for government mandated standards to the consumer is not new nor is it limited to new ICE tech.

  • avatar
    markogts

    “In Europe, tests have shown a 10-percent power gain from 98 octane fuel over a North American premium blend. ”

    Would you please provide the source for this claim? What about mileage gain? Here in Slovenia, the increase in price for 98RON is 7% compared to 95RON.

  • avatar
    raph

    Well if they could significantly raise the rating over 93 that would be cool! My engine is 12:1 already and runs fine on 93 but a better octane rating would allow for .ore aggressive ignition timing pumping up the power.

    IIRC Ei5 is around 105 octane. It would be nice to see gasoline there to take advantage of that without the mpg penalty E85 imposes.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    A few things, many have been mentioned.
    Octane rating has almost nothing to do with a gasoline’s energy content (by weight the way the scientists do it).
    Higher octane means the gas will not ignite until it reaches a higher pressure/temperature. Which means the engine can have a higher compression ratio and or more supercharge pressure. Which (all things being equal, which they seldom are)means more power/efficiency.
    Going back a century, and it’s still true, higher octane fuel costs more to produce. If refined from petroleum fewer gallons of higher octane will come out of a barrel as compared to lower octane.
    That’s where additives came in.
    Manganese, sulpher, and many others were tried, some successfully as octane improvers.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I work in a small town in the south…. a common topic of conversation is which of the local gas stations has the cheapest gas, even by pennies. Mind you, many of these folks drive old 4AT V8 pickup trucks… it’s going to be hard to educate these people on the merits of high octane fuel and fuel economy in general.

    • 0 avatar
      mason

      Especially when there’s no tangible benefits for said vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “it’s going to be hard to educate these people on the merits of high octane fuel and fuel economy in general.”

      I think that most people may seek to pay the lowest amount per gallon of gas, but they’ll continue buying it no matter what the cost. Or walk.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    This article is a mess. Higher octane rated fuels don’t mean higher energy density (often the reverse is true).

    Europe uses a different scale (RON) than the US. European 95 octane fuel is roughly equivalent to US 91.

    Several automakers have been moving away from requiring or suggesting premium fuel use even for luxury cars because car buyers don’t do math and hate paying even a marginal extra charge at the pump.

    Currently the biggest fuel economy problem with US fuel blends is the ^&*(^&*(^&&(! ethanol being added. It takes 1.5 gallons of ethanol to equal the energy content of 1.0 gallons of real gasoline. Our common 10% ethanol blended fuel offers about 2% less energy and thus 2% lower fuel economy than would pure traditional gasoline.
    Lets not have TTAC become an alternate facts zone, ok?

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      This.

      Regular gas has more latent energy by volume in it than premium gas has. Premium can simply withstand more compression without detonation before ignition – due to elevated octane content. More squish means more power by way of engineering. Regular gas just uses more gas to get more power, but at a lower cost to the motorist. Think of it thusly: a small firecracker exploding on your open palm might leave a small burn and a bit of pain. The same firecracker exploding in your clenched fist will blow your fingers off. Writ a bit large, I admit, but the theory holds.

  • avatar
    OldWingGuy

    Here in Saskatchewan, I regularly use Shell premium for motorcycles, lawnmower, etc. It has no ethanol. A word of caution – it appears that the hose is common to regular, so if the previous person used regular that is really what you are getting in your small gas can. So I put a few gallons in my truck gas tank to make sure the hose is cleared. Since doing this, I have never had trouble starting small engines on a new season, or cleaned the carbs on my bikes.
    Ethanol is just plain evil stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Ethanol isn’t all that evil. It’s biggest problem with small engines is that the engines tend to sit for a long time, without being run. In those cases, the short shelf life of ethanol can cause it to start clogging.

      Drain your lawn mower for the winter. Drain your snow blower for the summer. If it must sit with gas in it, use an additive like Seafoam (I always use Seafoam in my snow blower, as it’s difficult to predict how long it’ll sit).

  • avatar

    Two separate things. Octane and Ethanol. Here in the NYMA, all gas must be with booze. I have to go about 60 miles north to find the first station with pure gas (Stewart’s, and they tag the pump “NO ETHANOL”-premium grade only). Running a DI 3.6 NA engine, I’ve been unable to feel any difference between booze gas and pure gas. The engine has direct injection and VVT, so there is lot of things that can be varied by computer.

    The 3.6 owner’s manual says 87 octane, but after running many tanks of 87 and 93, it runs better and hits harder with the 93. I’m sure you could run it forever on 87-but 93 allows the computer to be more aggressive. Later versions of the engine also have e85 settings…

    I do appreciate the NA, Yank Tank power curve. I’ve had a lot of turbos, but for typical cruise, a phat NA motor rules.

  • avatar
    skor

    It takes more crude to refine gas to a higher octane. During WWII the Germans produced avgas at lower octane since they were chronically short of oil. The Allies produced higher octane avgas which gave allied planes, like the Spitfire, decidedly better performance. For example, during the battle of Britain, the German planes only had loiter time of about 15 minutes while over England. This could have been boosted significantly by raising the octane of their avgas. After the war Joseph Stalin said, “The war was decided by engines and octane.”

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Here in Dallas, it’s as the picture in the lede photo: 87 Regular, 89 Mid-grade, and 93 Premium.

    Rather than raising the octane, I’d rather they just got the ethanol out of the gasoline. My Tacoma doesn’t get the same mileage that owners using pure gasoline do, and I’ve switched to buying Trufuel at Home Depot, for the lawn equipment. It’s 92 octane, with no ethanol, but it’s $5.87 a quart can, or about $20 for a gallon can. The pump gas causes the equipment (especially my Honda Masters mower) to be hard to start, and eventually causes water in the fuel, since ethanol is hygroscopic.

    I would run higher octane in the Tacoma (it calls for 87, but knocks sometimes at low speeds and light throttle openings, like 30 mph), but retailers charge too much of an upcharge for higher grades. It used to be that there was no more than 10 cents difference between grades (sometimes 15), but nowadays it can be 30 cents or more.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    I didn’t even realize some states had 85. Here in Kentucky, your options are 87, 89, and 93. There’s even one station in town that sells ethanol-free gas for a slight premium. I should try that in my S10, since its tired old 4.3 doesn’t seem to like the 10% ethanol fuel every other station has. My wife’s ’13 CX-5 and my ’16 6, both with the “SkyActiv” motors, seem perfectly happy with the 10% ethanol 87 grade, though.

    I recall Cadillac’s Northstars requiring premium (93 octane) fuel in the ’90s. My grandma had a ’99 DeVille and her friend had a ’95 Aurora. Both needed 93 grade rather than 87 or they’d act all low power and stupid and knock, too. My grandma was fine with it since she said if she could afford a Cadillac then she could afford the gas for it. But, her friend dumped the Aurora partly because she was tired of paying 30 cents more per gallon every time she fueled up.

    I expect if cars are released that require higher octane fuel (and the fuel itself is available here, too), customers will flock to ones that don’t require it. MPG doesn’t equal MPD (miles per dollar).

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I have a few questions about “Premium” gas:

    When gas was around $4/gallon, the price difference in California was about $0.10 for mid grade and another $0.10 for premium… or a 20 cent spread between regular and premium… maybe 25 cents some times.

    NOW, with gas at roughly half the price at the pump, there seems to be a 60-70 cent difference in price. Is there a technical reason for this or is it a money grab by the oil companies?

    I ask this because at the same time, I see a lot of advertising that blatantly seems to lie about the benefits of higher octane gas… claiming it will solve all automotive ills, give you more power in your Aveo, and save gas consumption. I think of this like pharmaceutical advertising in that it creates extra demand for a more profitable product that a lot of people buying it don’t really need or benefit from.

    Is my perception incorrect or is that seemingly higher margin for premium grade due to higher profit and increased marketing expense?

    Assuming that $4 gas was due primarily to a higher cost for the raw ingredient, why would higher octane fuel cost MORE today relative to regular?

    • 0 avatar
      ttaclogin

      I have the same question. I tried to find the answer at a lot of forums and I got the sense that we will never know. My hunch is that the companies are trying to get higher profit from premium gas to partially compensate the loss of revenue from reduced prices. My car “recommends”, not “requires” premium, so I reluctantly switched to regular.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      I agree.. the price delta is mostly from marketing. Some oil companies will justify the price of premium with detergent packages that will keep your engine cleaner. I see 2 mitigating factors:

      1. In Canada, I discovered Shell premium was offered without ethanol! So to me, it was worth the price.
      2. Supply and demand. It costs more to make 93 octane gas than 87. In the US, 87 is the volume seller, so economies of scale help bring down the price of 87 while leaving the price of 93 up there somewhere (raising my hand above my head).

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