Premium is the New Regular: Automakers Want to Kill 87 Octane

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
premium is the new regular automakers want to kill 87 octane

The automotive industry wants to make 95 octane gasoline the new normal for the United States and it has taken its case to Washington. On Friday, Dan Nicholson, General Motors’ vice president of global propulsion systems, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee that switching to 95 octane would align the U.S. with Europe and is one of the most affordable ways to boost fuel economy and lower greenhouse emissions.

Affordable for automakers, that is. Because there is no reason to think your local gas station will suddenly do you a solid and price 95 octane lower just because 87 is gone.

Nicholson maintains that 95 octane would cost consumers far less in the long run, however. Automakers could implement higher compression ratios on new models, which sounds great and offers the potential for more-efficient engines, but what about all of those old models rocking lower compression rates? Surely those customers are getting burned.

“This will have customer value if it is done correctly. Don’t think of the premium fuel that is available today,” Nicholson said at the SAE International WCX World Congress Experience in Detroit one day before his meeting with the House subcommittee. “If it is done in the right framework, it could have a lot of value for customers at a low rate if we pick the right octane level. If you go too high, it’ll get expensive. But if you pick the right one, it’ll actually work for customers. They can get around 3 percent fuel-economy improvement for less than 3 percent [cost].”

That sounds plausible on future automobiles but, again, it doesn’t speak to the people driving around in vehicles that don’t need 95 RON. The average car owner is keeping their vehicle longer than ever and being suddenly forced to buy more expensive gas sounds like a tough sell.

“Fuels and engines have always been a system. That’s how you have to think about it. I think America deserves as good a gasoline as Europe,” Nicholson continued.

So 87 octane isn’t good enough for America? Well, Dan, there are millions of drivers with compression ratios below 10:1 that would disagree. We understand that improving engine efficiency is costly for automakers, but nobody wants to eat that cost against their will. Tack it onto those new engines, which people will have to put premium gas into anyway. But don’t make Joe Six-Pack dump premium gas into his 2007 Chevrolet Silverado.

According to Automotive News, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, and Ford Motor Co., are working with the United States Council for Automotive Research to ditch all grades of gas that aren’t 95. In theory, minimizing options should also help to mitigate cost from the refineries.

David Filipe, vice president of Ford’s powertrain engineering, joined Nicholson to say 95 octane fuel must become more affordable for this strategy to work. “That’s been something that has been important to us. How do we do this without having a big impact on the customer?” he said. “We don’t want to put the burden onto the customer.”

Filipe explained the cost must not add more than 5 cents per gallon vs 87 octane. Presently, premium gas averages about 50 cents more per gallon and there is no way to ensure refiners can get that price down to sufficient levels until they’ve started producing it at higher volumes.

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Apr 23, 2018

    I'm with the car companies on this one. Having the same fuel standards as Europe make complete sense .... so the US probably is incapable of doing it.

  • Rrhyne56 Rrhyne56 on Apr 24, 2018

    "if it is done correctly" raise your hand if you think it'll be done correctly.

  • Dukeisduke In an ideal world, cars would be inspected in the way the MoT in the UK does it, or the TÜV in Germany. But realistically, a lot of people can't afford to keep their cars to such a high standard since they need them for work, and widespread public transit isn't a thing here.I would like the inspections to stick around (I've lived in Texas all my life, and annual inspections have always been a thing), but there's so much cheating going on (and more and more people don't bother to get their cars inspected or registration renewed), so without rigorous enforcement (which is basically a cop noticing your windshield sticker is out of date, or pulling you over for an equipment violation), there's no real point anymore.
  • Zipper69 Arriving in Florida from Europe and finding ZERO inspection procedures I envisioned roads crawling with wrecks held together with baling wire, duct tape and prayer.Such proved NOT to be the case, plenty of 20-30 year old cars and trucks around but clearly "unsafe at any speed" vehicles are few and far between.Could this be because the median age here is 95, so a lot of low mileage vehicles keep entering the market as the owners expire?
  • Zipper69 At the heart of GM’s resistance to improving the safety of its fuel systems was a cost benefit analysis done by Edward Ivey which concluded that it was not cost effective for GM to spend more than $2.20 per vehicle to prevent a fire death. When deposed about his cost benefit analysis, Mr. Ivey was asked whether he could identify a more hazardous location for the fuel tank on a GM pickup than outside the frame. Mr. Ivey responded, “Well yes…You could put in on the front bumper.”
  • 28-Cars-Later I'll offer this, offer a registration for limited use and exempt it from all inspection. The Commonwealth of GFY for the most part is Dante's Inferno for the auto enthusiast however they oddly will allow an antique registration with limited use and complete exemption from their administrative stupidity but it must be 25 years old (which ironically are the cars which probably should be inspected). Given the dystopia being built around us, it should be fairly simply to set a mileage limitation and enforce a mileage check then bin the rest of it if one agrees to the terms of the registration. For the most part odometer data started being stored in the ECU after OBDII, so it should be plug and play to do such a thing - this is literally what they are doing now for their emissions chicanery.
  • Probert For around $15 you can have a professional check important safety areas - seems like a bargain. It pointed to a rear brake problem on my motorcycle. It has probably saved a lot of lives. But, like going to a dentist, no-one could say it is something they look forward to. (Well maybe a few - it takes all kinds...)