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Jun. 15, 2009 – Ethanol gas blend controversy fuels one company’s growth

June 15, 2009
Filed under Features

The increasing amount of ethanol in gasoline continues to stir debate and for at least one company, stir up additional business.
Star brite, a well-known fuel additive brand in the marine industry, has entered the powersports industry thanks in part to the growing role ethanol is having in motor vehicle fuel. Large pockets of the country now have gas with up to a 10 percent ethanol blend. That rate could even climb higher as the Environmental Protection Agency is currently accepting public comment on a proposal to increase the ethanol blend rate to 15 percent.
Using higher concentrations of ethanol has raised a number of concerns, notably that older vehicle engines were not designed to handle an ethanol-blended gasoline. Other opponents view higher concentrations of ethanol as dangerous because it can potentially erode engine parts. Proponents, on the other hand, see higher ethanol blends as a way to create U.S. jobs and decrease the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
For Star brite, the ethanol blend controversy has essentially sped up their entry into the powersports segment, said Bill Lindsey, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Last winter, the company begun receiving orders for its fuel treatment product Star Tron from an unlikely source: powersports dealers in the Northeast. The company, which has its manufacturing and distributing facility in Montgomery, Ala., operates in the marine, RV and auto industries but had yet to really enter the powersports market.
The Northeast powersports dealers who were asking for Star Tron orders were serving snowmobile riders who began experiencing engine problems. Lindsey believes these problems were mostly due to these riders using an alcohol-based fuel additive to the E-10 blend. Lindsey says it’s not uncommon for engines that run on gasoline with a blend of more than 10 percent alcohol — ethanol is a form of alcohol — to have problems. Some snowmobile riders have traditionally used alcohol-based fuel additives to improve engine performance, Lindsey says. So the combination of the alcohol-based fuel additives plus the E-10 led to the engine problems.
A similar situation had occurred previously in the marine industry when E-10 originally came to the market place. Quite by accident, the company and its customers found Star Tron, an enzyme fuel treatment, provided better engine performance with the E-10 gas blend.
“Boat owners were finding their engines were running very rough. They were stalling. They were just having all kinds of problems as soon as this new E-10 gas started coming out,” Lindsey said. “Some of them using Star Tron realized they weren’t having the same problem that the next guy next to them at the dock was having and it was a word-of-mouth thing.”
Lindsey believes that word-of-mouth effect led snowmobilers in the Northeast to try Star Tron during the past winter. Evidently, the word spread quickly as Lindsey says the company ended up shipping 2,000 cases in two weeks to the Northeast.
“The acceptance was unbelievable,” he said.
The company has since worked on building a product that is more appropriate for the powersports market. That product, the small engine formula, treats a more appropriate amount of gasoline — 8 ounces treats 48 gallons — than what can be found on the marine side. The small engine formula also has redesigned labeling for the powersports market.
The Star Tron product is retailed at powersports dealerships, through Parts Unlimited and other distributors, and at some big-box stores. Lindsey believes dealers have an advantage over the latter group in speaking of the product’s usefulness with the E-10 blends.
“They have the ability to interact with a customer in a way that a big box can’t even comprehend,” he said. “When you go into your dealer, you go looking into him for answers and solutions, and that’s what we see our products as.”

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