More Cubans are turning to electric vehicles as the fuel and transportation crisis rages on

There is a new spectacle on the streets of Havana: electric vehicles are multiplying among the old American cars so emblematic of the Cuban capital.

As fuel shortages and US sanctions take their toll, and even though power generation can be spotty, Cubans are turning to smaller, cheaper alternatives.

“Gasoline? Imagine. After 50 years of struggling to get it, I don’t even want to smell it anymore,” taxi driver Sixto Gonzalez, 58, told AFP atop the shiny electric blue quadricycle with which he moves around the city. streets at a maximum speed of around 40 km/h.

Mr Gonzalez ditched his old combustion engine car – one of around 600,000 registered on the island of 11.2 million people, according to official data.

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

The vast majority of cars on the road in Cuba are American models from the 1950s – before the sanctions began – and compact Ladas from the Soviet era.

Newer models are virtually impossible to get your hands on and cost between $20,000 and $100,000.

The quadricycle purchased by Mr. Gonzalez, by comparison, can be had for between $4,000 and $8,000 and, although slower, can carry four or five people from point A to point B.

Also increasingly popular are electric motorcycles — of which there are estimated to be between 40,000 and 50,000 in Cuba — and three-wheelers all the more frequently seen dragging a car full of passengers or cargo.

“Museum on Wheels”

At a once-abandoned Soviet-era truck factory in the central city of Santa Clara, about 100 Minerva workers assemble electric vehicles with parts imported from China or Vietnam.

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 three-wheelers.

“I had to buy one because there was no more fuel and the queues are endless,” said Raul Suarez, a 52-year-old security guard who bought himself an electric motorbike. “I need to be able to move around.”

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

Half of the buses are out of service for lack of tires and batteries that cannot be imported due to US sanctions, said Transport Ministry official Guillermo Gonzalez.

Habanese people sometimes wait for hours for a bus to go to work or go home.

Meanwhile, fuel shortages have worsened since the United States in 2019 tightened its six-decade-old economic blockade on the communist island, preventing the arrival of tankers from Venezuela, a Cuban ally.

Oil supply has fallen from 100,000 barrels per day to around 56,000 barrels per day on average in 2021, said Jorge Pinon, a Cuban energy policy expert at the University of Texas.

Three years ago, the government started promoting the use of electric cars, introducing them to public companies for use by workers.

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

It is hoped that a rollout of electric cars will reduce “fuel consumption…and at the same time reduce pollution”, he said.

But the electricity supply is also a problem.

For weeks, Cubans have had to deal with regular blackouts, sometimes lasting several hours at a time, due to production breakdowns and maintenance work on thermoelectric plants.

And in a bid to fill some of the shortage, authorities have turned to generators that consume much of the limited supply of diesel.

“There has never been a more difficult situation than the one we are currently experiencing, and there are still three months of summer ahead,” Pinon said, referring to the annual increase in hot weather. demand for energy to operate air conditioners.

Ramses Calzadilla, director of strategy at Cuba’s energy ministry, said he was confident power generation would soon be restored to full capacity and insisted the situation did not threaten the booming electricity sector. electric vehicles.

“An electric motorcycle consumes about as much energy as a refrigerator,” he told AFP, and can be recharged quickly and cheaply between scheduled power outages.

Updated: June 18, 2022, 2:37 p.m.

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