Electric Car Sales In Emerging EV Markets — Chapter 3: Latin America

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After covering Africa and the Middle East, in this last chapter, we cover Latin America, looking at some interesting cases there and evaluating the markets where EVs are more advanced or have the highest potential.

Photo by Papa Pic

Over 5 million new vehicles were registered last year in Latin America, and growth prospects are good, with experts saying that the market will surpass 8 million by 2025. Most of the growth is coming from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.

Hatchbacks and compact sedans are king here, with pickup trucks also being common. Crossovers and SUVs are growing in popularity, but are still a small segment, with the best-selling model from that category (the Nissan Kicks) showing up only in the #14 spot.

In this region, the market is quite balanced, with Chevrolet, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Toyota being the highest sellers. There are at least 12(!) Chinese brands operating in this area as well, four of them (Chery, JAC, Great Wall, and Changan) are already in the top 30, with compact cars and crossovers being the backbones of their lineups.

And where do EVs get into play here?

Public transportation options (buses, trains, metro systems) offer a mobility template for the common citizen in Latin America, with vehicle ownership still considered as a special asset. But in recent years, many young urban people living in megacities (São Paulo, Mexico City, etc.) are preferring ride-hailing systems, instead of the hassle of owning a car and driving it in the congested streets of these large cities.

As such, ride-hailing services like Meleva (Brazil) and Laudrive (Mexico) are racing against other services, like the air-taxi company Flapper (Brazil), carsharing leader ZazCar (Brazil), Carrot (Mexico), and Awto (Chile).

This mobility ecosystem offers great opportunities for electrification, not only buses, but because electric cars of all types excel in operating costs. These new mobility services profit greatly from going electric, and will possibly be at the forefront of EV adoption in this area.

But right now, in 2018, what are the markets to keep an eye on?

Photo via BYD

Brazil — The largest automotive market in Latin America, with close to 2 million vehicles per year, Brazil has a symbolic number of plug-in sales. In 2017, plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) scored 415 registrations, 70 fully electrics (BEVs) and 355 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Except for the BMW i3 and a few high-end PHEVs, most plug-ins are fleet-related deals, with BYD and Renault having a few dozen units zooming around in the country thanks to those deals.

Colombia — This is a medium-sized car market, with 238,200 units sold in 2017. The Renault Twizy is a real success story here, having gotten 500 registrations since it landed in 2015. The BMW i3 is also a popular choice, with over 200 units sold. And Renault is now investing in the Zoe’s success there, after long being its star model in Europe. Interestingly, this is one of the few markets where Chinese brands, in this case JAC and BYD, play on a level field with the remaining competition. So far, things haven’t gone well. They have less than 5% market share and are miles away from the +30% share of both Renault and BMW.

Regarding the 2018 PEV share, it now stands at 0.2%, and September hit an all-time best of 0.4%. So, the needle is starting to move in the right direction, with Colombia possibly being the first Latin American market to reach 1% share. That would certainly confirm it as one of the most promising plug-in markets to the south of the US border.


Mexico — This is the second largest automotive market in the area, with a market size of 1.53 million in 2017. It is also the largest PEV market in Latin America, with sales in 2017 reaching 472 BEV + 968 PHEV units. With Mexico being part of NAFTA and new trade agreements, one can see the influence of its northern neighbor on the country, with Tesla being the best-selling brand in the last 2 years. The Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, and Renault Twizy are also relatively popular choices.

Photo via www.movilidadelectrica.org and Costa Rica Limpia

Costa Rica — In a country known for having close to 100% of renewable energy, transport electrification is really a no brainer, and EVs have existed here since 2011.

The electrification of both public and private transport is an integrated country policy to help it meet environmental commitments, especially because half of the country’s emissions come from the transport sector.

But despite this, between 2011 and 2014, only about 50 BEVs were registered in the country, with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV leading with 25 units.

All of that changed in 2017 with the approval of a law exempting new all-electric cars from import duties and other taxes. In 2018, that extended to used BEVs less than 5 years old. Sales took off in the first half of 2018, with 200 BEVs registered that year, of which only 24 were used imports. Registrations were led by the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, which had 120 sales thanks to a fleet deal (100 units) with the country’s largest electric utility (ICE). Plug-ins now have 0.4% of the passenger vehicle market, with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV being a popular choice.

Highlighting the role of fleet deals in transport electrification, as part of the state policy, the institution dedicated to postal and goods delivery (Correos de Costa Rica) has already acquired 18 electric motorcycles out of the 348 that it plans to buy. Also, some ministries have renewed their fleet with fully electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV units.

The country is now advancing its charging network. Currently, there are approximately 45 charging stations, of which only 1 is a level 3 fast charger. By 2019, under a Charge National Plan, approximately 30 fast charging stations will be installed throughout the country.

Finally, regarding public transport, with external cooperation, a project is being launched to bring 3 electric buses to the country to serve as a pilot test to make decisions corresponding to the electrification of this sector.

Photo via Nissan

Chile, Ecuador & Uruguay — These markets have small EV scenes, but sales have been growing. Ecuador registering 102 BEVs in the first 8 months of 2018, while Chile has also crossed into the three digits area — 121 PEVs have been registered this year. Uruguay is still trying to break the 100 unit barrier.

BMW, BYD, and Renault are present in all three markets, with the Koreans (Kia in Ecuador, Hyundai in Chile) dipping in their toes. These three markets are on a second line of electrification and could quickly grow, maybe once Nissan finally starts to deliver the LEAF there.

Argentina – A late arrival to the EV bandwagon, with the first plug-ins only landing this year, the fact is that 109 PEVs have already been registered up to August, so there is a lot of potential for the near future and it could be another market where the Nissan LEAF arrival can make a big difference.

A big thank you to Monica Araya, Diana Rivera and Mario Roberto Ortiz, for the help provided with this article. It’s always great to have local input!

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José Pontes

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewed the sales evolution of plug-ins on the EV Sales blog, allowing him to gain an expert view on where EVs are right now and where they are headed in the future. The EV Sales blog has become a go-to source for people interested in electric car sales around the world. Extending that work and expertise, Jose is also market analyst on EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.

José Pontes has 473 posts and counting. See all posts by José Pontes