On a recent cold morning in May, Bolivian doctor Carlos Ortuno climbed into a small electric car to see a patient in La Paz, unsure whether the tiny vehicle would be able to navigate the city’s steep, winding streets. Will it be able or not.
“The difference with a gasoline car is so minimal, it’s like it had no engine, you don’t feel it. I thought it would have problems because of the topography, but it’s a great climber,” Docter told The Associated Press. told.
He went quantum through La Paz, located on the slopes of the Andes mountain range at an altitude of 3,600 meters and whose roads run through the mountains, one of these six vehicles used by the state program “Doctor in your house” Is. “Inaugurated in April.
La Paz Mayor Iván Arias said, “It’s a pioneering idea: protecting the health of those most in need, the environment and encouraging national industry.” “It is an ideal car to go to remote places, it can avoid traffic and that’s why we will also use it to go out and vaccinate against COVID-19,” said Fatima María Verdúguez, the municipality’s health secretary. ”
The mayor plans to double the fleet next year as the program expands to more neighborhoods.
The vehicle has been on the market for four years with its two models for three passengers: a driver and two passengers who sit in the back. It can travel 80 kilometers before a single recharge and has a top speed of 55 kilometers per hour. It’s the cheapest car on the market with an average price of $7,600 and recharges its battery in a home outlet when it’s parked.
The company Quantum Motors started manufacturing electric trucks for mining in the city of Cochabamba in the center of the country in 2016, and a year later it developed the first prototypes of electric cars that were revealed in 2019 and sold in Peru, Paraguay. And soon in Mexico.
There are currently about 350 Quantums in circulation in Bolivia, but interest is growing despite a preference for gasoline-powered cars that are also sold at popular fairs.
“Electromobility is going to rule the world for the next few years and it will be different in countries. In the United States, Tesla will dominate with cars with greater speed and autonomy. In Latin America they will be more compact cars because our roads are bigger than those of California. are more like Bombay and New Delhi in comparison,” said Jose Carlos Marquez, the company’s manager. Its products also include motorcycles and bicycles.
Last year the company built its own battery factory with Bolivian lithium. “The batteries that work every day last for three years and we will be able to recover and recycle them so that they continue to work with solar power,” explained battery engineer Federico Iriberi.
Bolivia has always exported raw materials, especially minerals, and has dreamed of industrializing it to achieve development. The latest bet is lithium and Bolivia’s reserves are among the largest in the world.
But the exploitation of this mineral is still a project. The government of Evo Morales (2006–2019) set a goal of exporting batteries and electric cars, but found no foreign partner to finance its plan.
The current President Luis Arce intends to produce electric batteries from 2026 and for this he chose the Chinese consortium CBC (CATL BruNP and CMOC), which will set up two industrial complexes with direct lithium extraction technology from Brine.
For now, the country exports lithium carbonate and potassium chloride, set to reach a value of $80 million in 2022.
The leftist president recently said, “This will be the era of lithium industrialization, we will establish ourselves as a benchmark country.” But experts say Arce has faced many political, social and economic challenges to carry out its plan in a country that has nationalized energy companies over the past decade.
Quantum has come to revive that dream, but for now it’s just a grain of sand in the desert. The automobile fleet is obsolete, with cars running on fossil fuels, and it is being encouraged by the gasoline that Bolivia imports to sell at half the price in its internal market for the application of million-dollar subsidies.
“They may be cheaper (Quantum), but I don’t think they have the power and capability of a gas-powered car. They also tend to be smaller, on the other hand you can load more people and cargo than a gasoline car.” I like them”, said mechanic Marco Antonio Rodríguez. However, he added that people’s preferences may change “the day the government withdraws the gasoline subsidy.”
Meanwhile, the tiny quantum factory is operating at full speed. “We are ready to scale, our customers are the best ambassadors of the brand, we have already exhausted our stock till July,” said Marquez.