Owning an Electric Vehicle in a Country With Daily Power Outages

Electric and hybrid cars, and some electric motorcycles, are being imported or assembled in the country, an advantage in the face of the fuel shortage. But how many Venezuelans can really afford one?

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Venezuela hasn’t been able to jump back from the 2019 nationwide blackout that took out the electric grid for several days, and it’s still failing to supply a continuous electricity service across the territory. However, we see strange stuff making headlines like the country at the top of crypto-mining (which requires a lot of electricity) world rankings or local marketing campaigns for electric vehicles (EVs). As a matter of fact, there are currently between 700 and 1,000 electric vehicles on the streets, mostly in Caracas, Valencia, Maracay, Maracaibo, and Barquisimeto, according to David D’Amico, president of VenCharger. VenCharger sells and installs equipment to charge EVs, and developed an app to locate charging docks and auto repair shops in Venezuela’s main cities.

A thousand vehicles seem insignificant among a fleet of approximately two million working vehicles—although most units are twenty-two years old on average and rarely have insurance. In Colombia and Chile, the electric car presence is also minute. In Latin America, in general, we’re still very far behind in the compliance of certain commitments to stop climate change. In this region, vehicles running with fossil fuels are still overwhelmingly used.

Since the March 2019 blackout, almost half a million electrical failures have taken place in Venezuela, according to the Comité de Afectados por los Apagones. However, the arrival of EVs to the country accelerated after the pandemic, in 2020. Today, the Fiat500e, Corolla Hybrid and Xpeng, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Leaf, and even Tesla have customers in Venezuela.

Not many customers, it must be said. “Their high price is obviously too steep for the average Venezuelan, and there’s little infrastructure for the new technology,” says Omar Bautista, the president of the auto parts manufacturers chamber.

Prices can start at $17,000 for used models that some car dealers are importing and they could go over $70,000 for new ones, depending on make and model.

The Kona that Huyndai Venezuela just announced will sell in the country will start at $66,000 (in the U.S. the Kona is in the affordable EV scale starting at $21,000).

Most have been imported from the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Italy. In 2018, the government lifted the customs restrictions that have stalled imported products. The Maduro administration authorized importing used cars up to five years old in 2019, of any make and model. And in 2020, they even allowed imports without tariffs.

This complicated the situation for assembly plants and vehicle and car parts manufacturers in Venezuela. Their productivity and sales dropped again. During the first semester of 2022, only 1,899 new cars were sold, according to the former president of the car manufacturers chamber Cavenez, Enrique González. That’s an increase of 122% compared to the same period in 2021, but consider that, at the height of the Venezuelan economy, that number reached half a million units a year. This gives us a very clear idea of how much the automotive industry declined in this country during the economic crisis in the last decade.

Electric Baby Steps

Electric vehicle sales will rise from 6.6 million in 2021 to 20.6 million in 2025 and will represent around 23% of the new passenger vehicle sales worldwide, Bloomberg NEF points out in its most recent report on the market’s expectations.

Some of the available electric cars in the Venezuelan market have batteries with adapters that allow their owners to use a 110v or 220v outlet. A full charge it can take between 7 and 15 hours. Others have technology that allows for significant autonomy on the road.

The Hyundai Kona, for instance, is a second-generation SUV crossover that comes in two versions: 39.2 KWH and 64 KWH. The latter has a 484 km trip autonomy, according to the manufacturer. The Nissan Leaf can go for up to 280 km on trails and 320 km in the city. Furthermore, in some of their versions, there’s a solar panel that charges the batteries as well.

Hyundai Venezuela is also offering their clients financing alternatives for their new vehicles through their car dealerships, for the first time in almost a decade.

To date, VenCharger has installed only one charging dock for EVs in Caracas, in Altamira. But in the upcoming months they will install more in malls like CCCT, Concresa, and San Ignacio, in the capital; then in La Guaira and later on in other states in the country. “We’re still in the no-fee phase for our customers. We’re in an introductory phase, what we want is for people to familiarize themselves with electric mobility. Later on, when all our equipment is installed in all the states, we’ll start charging for our service.” 

D’Amico said that by using a residential 100v charger, a Fiat500e can be fully charged for three or five dollars. Maintenance costs for these types of vehicles aren’t cheap. For instance, if an EV needs to replace their entire battery bank, it would require an investment of around 25,000 dollars in some models.

There are also several EV repair shops in Caracas and other cities. “This is much more technical and complex. You need specialized scanners, computers and online connections with the manufacturers, as well as certified staff to tend to these cases. That’s why we recommend owners to not take their vehicles to any repair shop, only to authorized places which can guarantee quality of service,” D’Amico says. Besides, electric vehicles work with high voltage and can even cause the death of a person, if they’re not working with the appropriate safety protocols.

With the payment options offered by new car dealerships in Venezuela, an important increase of car sales in 2022 and 2023 is expected. In Barinas, the Vefase company offers assembly, distribution, and sales of electric motorcycles, whose cheapest model at 450 dollars, has an autonomy of 50 km and a maximum speed of 30 km/h. The most expensive one has 140 km autonomy and a maximum speed of 85 km/h, for under 1,700 USD.