LA PAZ, Bolivia – On a cold morning recently, Dr. Carlos Ortuño into a small electric car to examine a patient on the outskirts of the Bolivian capital La Paz, unsure if the vehicle would have coped with the steep, winding roads of the high-altitude city.
“I thought it would be difficult because of the city’s topography, but it’s a great climber,” Ortuño said of his experience driving a Quantum, the first electric vehicle ever made in Bolivia. “The difference to a petrol-powered vehicle is huge.”
Ortuño’s home visit, aboard a golf cart-sized car, was part of a government-sponsored program that brings doctors to patients living in neighborhoods far from downtown. The Doctor in Your Home program was launched last month by the municipality of La Paz with a fleet of six electric vehicles made by Quantum Motors, the country’s only electric car maker.
“It’s a groundbreaking idea. It helps protect the health of those in need while protecting the environment and supporting local production,” said Mayor of La Paz Iván Arias.
The program could also help boost Quantum Motors, a company founded four years ago by a group of entrepreneurs who believe electric vehicles will transform the auto industry in Bolivia, a lithium-rich country where cheap, subsidized imported gasoline is still the norm.
Built like a box, the Quantum moves at no more than 56 km/h, can be charged from a household socket and can travel 80 kilometers before recharging. Its developers hope the $7,600 car will help revive dreams of a lithium-powered economy and make electric cars something that will be mainstream.
“E-mobility will take off globally over the next few years, but it will vary in different countries,” says José Carlos Márquez, General Manager of Quantum Motors. “Tesla will be a dominant player in the US with its fast, autonomous cars. But in Latin America the cars will be more compact because our roads are more like Bombay and New Delhi than California.”
But the company’s efforts to promote e-mobility in the South American country presented a challenge. In the four years since it launched its first electric vehicles, Quantum Motors has sold barely 350 cars in Bolivia and an unknown number of units in Peru and Paraguay. The company is also expected to open a factory in Mexico later this year, but further details on the scale of production there have not yet been announced.
Still, Quantum Motors’ bet on battery-powered cars makes sense given Bolivia’s resources. At an estimated 21 million tonnes, Bolivia has the world’s largest reserves of lithium, a key ingredient in electric batteries, but its vast reserves of the metal have yet to be mined and industrialized.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of vehicles in circulation still run on fossil fuels, and the government continues to subsidize millions of dollars for imported fuels, which are then sold at half price in the domestic market.
“The Quantum (car) may be cheap, but I don’t think it has the capacity of a gas-powered car,” says Marco Antonio Rodriguez, an auto mechanic in La Paz, though he concedes people might change their minds if that Auto is over The government is ending gasoline subsidies.
Despite the challenges ahead, makers of the Quantum car are hoping programs like Médico en tu casa, which is set to double in scope over the next year and expand to other neighborhoods, will help boost production and more electric vehicles across the region to produce .
“We’re ready to grow,” Marquez said. “Our stock was sold out by July.”