Focus: Paving the way for electric vehicles

EV or not to EV

Nov. 3, 2021

Vehicles in Colombia will increasingly go electric over the next decade, while clean energies are also becoming the main sources of power generation in the country.

With Colombia's rapid transformation from a more-or-less troubled country into a rapidly developing, prosperous economy, some Colombians have started to use and trust electric vehicles (EVs), in the same way that people in developed nations are embracing EVs. Even in 2020—a terrible year with many disappointing economic indicators—the sales of EVs and hybrid vehicles in Colombia continued to grow.

There is still much room for improvement. It is estimated that there are as few as 1000-2000 electric vehicles in private ownership across the country—mainly owned by the elite and environmentalists. The transition to EVs among the middle class, too, has started with two consequences: some businesses are trying to build the necessary infrastructure such as charging points for the mass use of EVs in the coming years, while automakers are trying to find a market for their EVs and hybrid vehicles in Colombia.

In terms of infrastructure, the Colombian government has issued a decree, allocating at least 2% of all parking lots to EVs, which will probably also be equipped with charging points. It is expected that the percentage will grow further as the popularity of EVs increases in Colombia. The private sector, too, is trying to tap into the market. Enel X Colombia, an energy company, currently runs some 50 charging points across Bogota. Thanks to the 50kW capacity of the charging points provided by the company, almost any electric vehicle will be at least 80% charged and good-to-go in under 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, a number of well-known automakers are trying to find a market for their hybrid and electric models in Colombia. As of publication, The Japanese automotive giant, Toyota, has the upper hand in Colombia's EV market (32%), with its new Toyota Corolla Hybrid. The Korean and American automakers Kia (10%) and Ford (8%) are following Toyota with their Kia Sportage Hybrid and Ford Escape HEV models. The rest of the market is highly fragmented, with half a dozen automakers competing for sales in Colombia.

It is notable that all three popular EVs in the Colombian market are technically hybrid cars and not fully electric, which is mainly due to range anxiety. Range anxiety is the main psychological factor preventing people from switching to fully electric vehicles. As the number of EVs in Colombia continues to increase, even more charging stations should be launched in the next few years. Some businesses are trying to help people to get rid of their range anxiety by having their own charging station at home. Codensa, an energy company, provides people with chargers which can be installed in the garages of ordinary houses.
Although given the average income in Colombia—roughly equivalent to USD350—none of the aforementioned models is exactly cheap. The 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid, for instance, costs no less than USD24,000 in its most basic incarnation, to say nothing of tax and registration fees. Nevertheless, with the expansion of green energies in Colombia and the difference between the prices of electricity and petrol or diesel, most consumers will come to the conclusion that an EV is more economical in the long run despite the high initial cost.

The transition to EVs is not limited to personal vehicles. In January 2021, a contract for over 1,000 electric busses was finalized between Bogota and the Chinese automaker, BYD. With the addition of the new buses, Bogota's fleet of fully electric buses will have around 1,500 mass transportation vehicles. The contract with BYD has been the largest tender for fully electric vehicles ever held by the Colombian authorities. This is also “the largest order for pure-electric buses outside of China to date," according to the Sustainable Bus magazine.

The shift to EVs—both in public and private transportation—is good news for Colombia, especially Bogotá which suffers from air pollution and traffic congestion. Outside Bogota, the ongoing transition to EVs will help save Colombia's unique climate and biodiversity as well as having many economic advantages in the long run for the country.

Some critics of EVs have pointed out that there is little point in having a large fleet of cars and buses running on electricity as long as the nation's electricity grid itself depends on burning fossil fuels for power generation. Only when the electricity grid is mainly fed with green sources such as photovoltaic farms and wind farms instead of thermal power plants can the nation's growing fleet of electric vehicles make any difference in terms of pollution and eco-friendliness. Fortunately, Colombia is making the transition to renewable energies a national priority, pledging to install 4,000MW of solar power capacity by 2030, which will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. As it happens, almost by the same year, electric vehicles in Colombia will probably outnumber the internal combustion engine cars for the first time in history.

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