Costa Rica to become Latin American electric-car pioneer?


Arenal volcano, Costa Rica, by Flickr user Adam Baker (Used under CC License)

Arenal volcano, Costa Rica, by Flickr user Adam Baker (Used under CC License)

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Costa Rica isn't what you'd call a bastion of automotive sales.

The Central American country ,wedged between Nicaragua and Panama, is home to 4.8 million people who buy just 154,000 vehicles annually—less than 1 percent of the sales in the United States.

But that won't deter the Costa Rican government from greening its fleet. It now aims to operate 37,000 plug-in electric vehicles in the country by 2022.

DON'T MISS: What Country Powered Itself Entirely On Renewable Energy For 75 Days?

In the words of a Navigant Research blog post earlier this month, "Until now, plug-in EVs (PEVs) have been about as popular as snowshoes in Latin America due to the higher cost of the vehicles and lack of governmental focus on reducing transportation carbon emissions."

Comedy aside, Costa Rica is one of the few Latin American countries putting more emphasis on greener, renewable transportation.

To promote plug-in vehicles in Costa Rica, tax exemptions on sales, consumption, and customs imports will reduce the effective cost of purchasing an electric car by roughly 24 percent.

BYD Qin plug-in hybrid in showroom in Costa Rica

BYD Qin plug-in hybrid in showroom in Costa Rica

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Still, electric cars have some economic factors working against broader adoption.

As well as low overall sales, Costa Ricans made an average annual salary of just over $10,000 in 2015—while "most plug-in electric vehicles cost north of $40,000 ... out of realistic reach for most consumers," explained Navigant.

Still, Costa Rica thinks incentivizing the sale of EVs in the country is important for several reasons.

READ MORE: BYD Qin Plug-In Hybrid Now On Sale In Costa Rica

First, the country's electricity utility, Grupo ICE, generates three-quarters of its power from renewable sources, so replacing fossil-fueled vehicles with electric cars lets Costa Rica clear its air and cut overall carbon emissions from vehicles.

Second, Costa Rica generates a significant percentage of its GDP from eco-tourism. Electric vehicles on the road would further promote the country's ecominded image.

Still, no automobiles are assembled in Costa Rica itself, so hitting the planned 2022 goal will depend on importers and their willingness to bring electric vehicles intro the country.

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