EVs Start Moving Latin American Cities To Sustainability

Electric vehicles are a novelty with promise in Latin America and are already expanding in several of its city bus fleets.

BYD electric buses charge in Bogota, Colombia
Natalia Vera and Héctor Cancino

SANTIAGO — It's a distance of 1,150 kilometers, a 12-hour car journey, between Temuco in southern Chile and La Serena in the north. Now, you can drive this distance with an electric car, thanks to a network of charging points placed throughout the 1,400-kilometer length of Chile by Copec Voltex, a firm providing electromobility solutions.

The head of the firm's B2C (business-to-consumer) Commercial Projects Director, Alan Morgan Rojas, says Copec realized electromobility was "coming to stay," hence its decision to enter into recharging infrastructures, "which has a fundamental role. The question this scenario prompts is which comes first, electric cars or charging infrastructure? Without charging points at service stations connecting the country, automobile brands would find it difficult to risk bringing them out if they couldn't even leave Santiago, for example."

Morgan says that with electric cars arriving on the market, charging solutions at home and in public spaces will follow, expanding to different sectors like industry and public transport. "There are many programs like Mi taxi eléctrico, which we'll join and include a home charging solution for drivers. Programs like this encourage the arrival of more electric vehicles, which will mean wider public access. One of the restrictions today is precisely their high price."

Electromobility has started and it won't stop

Tamara Berríos, country manager in Chile for BYD, a Chinese electric carmaker, believes fleets of electric buses will trigger the expansion of e-vehicles in Latin America. "Electromobility has started and it won't stop. It has started in mass public transportation and should naturally flow toward expanding in more cities that are taking an interest, copying the model of cities like Santiago, Bogotá and Medellín, which can already absorb an electric fleet. The next step has to be taxis. We've made all the progress with public transport because buses are not sold individually but in fleets, which is key. It is important to go for markets with a large volume of mass public transport. That way you can absorb a small percentage of that volume, which still gives you an attractive number allowing competitive prices."

BYD currently has 400 buses in Bogotá, 50 in Medellín, 20 in Guayaquil, 15 in Mendoza in Argentina, 30 in Montevideo and 30 in Brazil. It has 435 of its e-buses operating with the Santiago bus system. Other firms eyeing the e-bus market include the world's big carmakers, Tesla, Hyundai, BMW, Nissan and Toyota.

Luis Felipe Clavel, e-vehicles business development chief at Nissan, says, "electric vehicles are happening now, and we're living this across the region. We're so convinced of it we were the first brand to produce and develop electric vehicles on a mass scale in 2010. That was our Nissan Leaf, which we market in eight Latin American countries." He said the firm is working with firms in related tech sectors, like charging infrastructure, to "help introduce e-mobility."

BYD electric vehicles that will be used to encourage the transition from fossil-fuel taxis in Santiago, Chile — Photo: Xinhua/ ZUMA Press

He cited pricing as key to the market's expansion. He said that when the price of a lithium battery, calculated as kWh (kilowatts per hour), drops below U.S. $100/kWh, demand for e-vehicles should rise. The price was around $2,500/kWh in 2010, when Nissan launched its first e-vehicle, and "today we're around $400," says Clavel, adding, "we're seeing a downward trend and hopefully between 2025 and 2030 the $100 barrier will be crossed, which will make this technology more accessible to consumers. We hope the retail boom will happen around those dates."

In 2020, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, e-vehicle sales grew by 40.9% year-on-year, constituting 4% of all vehicle sales, according to the data analysis firm GlobalData. Indeed, other firms believe growth could be fast enough to prompt a shortage of batteries by 2030.

The three executives from BYD, Nissan and Copec Voltex spoke to América Economía at an E-mobility and Transport module in our online Energy Conference. They agreed Chile was currently ahead of the region in fomenting an e-mobility market. Berríos of BYD said initiatives begun in 2017 were now bearing fruit. "In Chile today we have six Chinese bus brands that are 100% electric, which arrived after us and have given the market a push in lowering prices. Some competing with us in this market are also competitors in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Peru, which are countries slowly creating fleets. BYD is the brand with most e-buses across the Americas."

E-mobility has come to stay in Latin America

The firm, she says, wants to expand into trucks and all long-haul vehicles that will benefit from cutting operation and maintenance costs.

Alan Morgan of Copec Voltex cited the need to expand regulations in this youthful sector, and welcomed Chile's new regulations on installing charging points at home for e-vehicles. The government also needed to find financing mechanisms for sectors like taxis, which he said would help boost demand.

For Nissan's Luis Clavel, Latin America had one advantage over Europe, in the prevalence of parkings in most if not all residential buildings. Unlike Europe's older buildings, many of which have no car parking, he said, these could host charging points allowing people to charge their car and drive out every morning. He said charging infrastructure inside cities was a priority over facilities between cities.

E-mobility has thus come to stay in Latin America. Retail prices and availability of charging facilities will now decide how far and fast it will progress across the continent.

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Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.

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