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Roadside assistance for proud ethanol supporters

By October 6, 2015Ethanol News
When is the last time you were stranded on the side of the road, wishing you were a member of a motor club? Or, perhaps, you are already a member of a motor club, but that motor club has a habit of bashing ethanol. You need to keep reading.
By Holly Jessen | September 28, 2015

I’ll just cut right to the chase. If you’re looking for an example of a person that should have roadside assistance, but doesn’t, I’m your woman. I’ve been known to lock my keys in my car. I’ve also run out of gas while driving down the road.

I could share some really embarrassing stories, but I think I’ll just move on to my most recent need for roadside assistance. It happened about a month ago, after intense rain that caused flooding in the streets of Grand Forks. My vehicle made it through the first three flooded areas, but stalled out right in front of the turn off to our apartment building. We had to pay for a tow truck out of pocket and our mechanic told us it was hydrolocked. Translation, water was all up in the engine and we were without our second car for more than two weeks, while a refurbished engine was installed.

Every time something like this happens, I think, I should have roadside assistance. But I never actually do anything about it. Ron Lamberty’s column from our February issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine tells me I might not be alone, at least in the “I have difficulty with actually following through with completely reasonable ideas” category.

Lamberty, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, revealed in his column,“I Wish Someone Would Do Something About How Fat I Am,” that not many people in the ethanol industry had, at that time, taken advantage of a pretty good deal offered by Association Motor Club Marketing. Not only does the motor club offer ethanol supporters a discount, but it’s less expensive than AAA, a motor club that is known to bash biofuels.

So, after my latest roadside “adventure,” I decided to talk to Gene Hammond, chairman of the board of both AMCM and Travelers Motor Club, of which he is also president. Here’s what I found out.

As ethanol supporters, for $35, my husband and I (and up to two other family members, if we had other drivers in our household) could have a year of roadside assistance coverage from AMCM. (It’s $25 for a single driver.) If we’d had it before I drove our car into floodwaters, turning it into a giant paperweight, the cost of towing it to our local mechanic would have been covered. (Up to $100.) I could also get assistance for those times I needed a jump start (check), gotten a flat tire (yep), locked my keys in my car (see above) and more.

Let’s get back to that whole discount thing. To get the discount, which is a savings of $10 per year, I have to do is go to the motor club’s website and click on “ethanol supporters” in the top orange line, at the far right side. Here’s a link directly to that page.

If I’d done this before my car was flooded in the street, here’s what would have happened. First, I would have accessed an app on my phone, which signals that someone should call me from one of AMCM’s 11 call centers. The caller would first ask, are you safe? (Answer, wet halfway to my knees and upset, but, yes, safe.) The caller would then ask me to look at a map in the app, which displays a red dot, and ask if that is, indeed, my location. On average, AMCM members wait 31 minutes for assistance, he said, although that number can go up if the system is overloaded with calls, such as during city-wide flooding.

Here’s the next logical question. Why is AMCM offering a discount to ethanol supporters? The answer brings us back to 2012, Hammond told me. He read a front page newspaper article about AAA’s concerns about E15. So he asked AMCM’s claims department to keep tabs on whether any of the motor club’s 19 million members had problems related to ethanol.  “We watched it for 2 years,” he said. “Not one road service call attributed to ethanol, any blend, whether it be 10 or 15 or whatever.” In fact, Hammond feels ethanol has benefited members, since ethanol content in most all fuel the problem of gas freeze up is a thing of the past. “If anything, we have had less road service calls,” he said.

That’s when Hammond got in touch with ACE and Growth Energy. AMCM and Travelers Motor Club went on the record, supporting ethanol. (Lamberty wrote another column about that for our December 2014 issue.)

And that’s how the “ethanol supporters” discount came about. Hammond is a business man. He’s happy to sell AMCM memberships. But that’s not his main motivation. “We would like to have friends of ethanol join our club,” he said. “But. That’s not why we got into this. We got into this just to set the record straight.”

AAA’s fight against E15 just doesn’t make sense to Hammond. As someone born and raised on a South Dakota farm, what does make sense to him is that ethanol has many benefits.  “The reason we are in this fight is, ethanol has made such a difference to rural America,” he said. “The small towns. The farmers. It’s good for economic development and it’s great for America becoming energy independent.”

That’s why, a couple weeks ago, AMCM representatives were in Washington, D.C., with members of Growth Energy. It’s the second time this year the group has been there to tell the story of 19 million members and not one issue with ethanol. And, the more ethanol supporters that sign up by clicking on that button, the stronger the company’s story will be.

The good news is, that number is growing. The company has even been approached by ethanol producers that want to give AMCM memberships to their shareholders, as Christmas gifts. “It’s beginning to find more traction all the time,” he said.

In other news, I need to become a member of AMCM. And, if you are an ethanol supporter that sometimes needs roadside assistance, I think you should too.

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