Auto makers are welcoming a decision by the Thai government to take a major step toward switching to B5, a blend of 5% biofuel diesel, from B2 by 2011.

Energy Minister Wannarat Channukul tells the Bangkok Post all 13 major car importers and assemblers in Thailand have agreed to help guarantee the standard of B5 diesel.

B5 demand now is 6.3 million gallons (24 million L) a day, about 50% of all diesel sold in Thailand, up from 2.9 million gallons (11 million L) last year.

“We still need to use B2, but once palm oil output is sufficient for making the greener B5, we want to see B5 as the lowest biofuel proportion in diesel available in the country,” he is quoted as saying.

General Motors Southeast Asia Operations and Chevrolet Sales Thailand President Steve Carlisle tells a news conference the companies are extremely pleased the government is encouraging and confirming the use of biodiesel B5 as this is the highest category of biodiesel available worldwide.

“Motorists will certainly gain from this cheaper fuel, in addition to the fact that the use of B5 will not damage the engine or any of its components, as all our powertrains are fully configured to run on B5.”

Carlisle says the ministry’s new policy on biodiesel B5 is a move in the right direction.

“It is also in line with General Motors’ own policy and active advocacy supporting and promoting the widespread adoption of alternative fuels,” he says.

Meanwhile, GM Thailand announces its readiness to develop and manufacture E85 vehicles by formulating a long-term plan to ensure the highest level of preparedness before actual production begins.

“We at GM believe ethanol will be one of the major contributing factors in our efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels,” Wanchana Unakul, director of GM Thailand and product development for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, says in a statement. “GM Thailand has always been ready; we will just need a long-term plan for developing and manufacturing the appropriate vehicles for Thailand.

“At the same time, a lot will depend on the extent of clarity and support the government’s policy will give to alternative-fuel vehicles,” he adds. “It will be ideal if the government can state a clear and practical policy for the long-term, while fuel producers ensure a comprehensive supply network at the same when car manufacturers are ready to build quality E85 vehicles.”

Most important, he says, motorists will have to “realize the importance of environmental protection,” and make the switch to the ethanol-based fuel.