Cubans are turning to electric transportation

There’s a new sight on the streets of Havana: more and more electric vehicles zipping between the old American cars so emblematic of the Cuban capital.

As fuel shortages and US sanctions take their toll, and while power generation can be spotty, Cubans are turning to smaller, cheaper plug-in alternatives.

“Petrol? Imagine. After 50 years of fighting to get it, I don’t even want to smell it!” Taxi driver Sixto Gonzalez, 58, told AFP news agency, on the shiny, electric-blue quad he is using with a Top speed of about 40 kilometers per hour moved through the streets.

Electric vehicles are popping up in Cuba as fuel prices and US sanctions cripple traditional transportation Photo: AFP / Yamil LAGE

Gonzalez has given up his old internal combustion engine car – one of around 600,000 registered on the island of 11.2 million people, according to official figures.

The last time he tried to fill it, he waited in line for eight hours.

By far the majority of cars in circulation in Cuba are American models from the 1950s – before the start of sanctions – and compact Soviet-era Ladas.

The Minerva factory aims to assemble 10,000 electric motorcycles in 2022 The Minerva factory aims to assemble 10,000 electric motorcycles in 2022 Photo: AFP / Yamil LAGE

Newer models are practically no longer available and have a steep price of around 20,000 to 100,000 US dollars.

The four-wheeler that Gonzalez bought, by comparison, is available for between $4,000 and $8,000 and, while slower, can get four or five people from point A to point B.

Also growing in popularity are electric motorcycles, of which there are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 in Cuba, and tricycles, which are increasingly used to pull a carriage full of passengers or goods.

A four-wheeler can be bought for between $4,000 and $8,000, a fraction of the price of a traditional car A four-wheeler can be bought for between $4,000 and $8,000, a fraction of the price of a traditional car Photo: AFP / Yamil LAGE

In a once-abandoned Soviet-era truck factory in downtown Santa Clara, about 100 Minerva workers assemble electric vehicles using parts imported from China or Vietnam.

Three years ago, the government started promoting the use of electric cars Three years ago, the government started promoting the use of electric cars Photo: AFP / Yamil LAGE

The goal for 2022 is to produce 10,000 electric motorcycles, Minerva boss Elier Perez told AFP – double the factory’s previous record – as well as 2,000 tricycles.

“I had to buy one because the fuel ran out and the lines are endless,” said Raul Suarez, a 52-year-old security officer who bought an electric motorcycle.

“I have to be able to move around.”

Cuba's gasoline supply fell from 100,000 barrels per day to an average of about 56,000 barrels per day in 2021 Cuba’s gasoline supply fell from 100,000 barrels per day to an average of about 56,000 barrels per day in 2021 Photo: AFP / Yamil LAGE

Not only are cars prohibitively expensive and scarce, public transport in the capital is a daily ordeal for many.

Half of the buses are out of service due to a lack of tires and batteries, which U.S. sanctions prevent them from importing, Transportation Department official Guillermo Gonzalez said.

Havana people sometimes wait hours for a bus to take them to work or home.

At the same time, fuel shortages have worsened since the US stepped up its six-decade-old economic blockade of the communist island in 2019, preventing the arrival of fuel tankers from Venezuela, a Cuban ally.

Gasoline supplies have plummeted from 100,000 barrels a day to an average of about 56,000 barrels a day in 2021, said Jorge Pinon, a Cuban energy policy expert at the University of Texas.

Three years ago, the government began encouraging the use of electric cars by introducing them to state-owned companies for workers to use.

“Cuba is a museum on wheels,” Gonzalez said of the abundance of decades-old gas guzzlers.

It is hoped that the introduction of electric cars will “reduce fuel consumption… while reducing pollution,” he added.

But the power supply is also a problem.

For weeks, Cubans have had to cope with regular cuts, sometimes lasting hours, due to production failures and maintenance work on thermoelectric systems.

And to make up some of the shortfall, authorities have turned to generators, which use up much of limited diesel supplies.

“There has never been a situation as difficult as it is now, and there are still three months of summer ahead,” Pinon said, alluding to the annual increase in the energy demand to run air conditioning systems in warm weather.

Ramses Calzadilla, strategy director at Cuba’s energy ministry, said he was confident power generation would return to full capacity shortly and insisted the situation did not threaten the burgeoning electric vehicle sector.

“An electric motorcycle uses about as much energy as a refrigerator,” he told AFP news agency, and can be charged quickly and cheaply between programmed blackouts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.