If I was to ask “what is the largest EV seller in Colombia?,” what would you respond?
Regardless of the answer (and I’m betting most of you said BYD), chances are you’ll be wrong. For, in Colombia, a set of quite specific circumstances ended up with the largest EV distributor being … a local motorcycle company. And the story of how this happened is quite interesting.
The Rise of Auteco (Autotécnica Colombiana SAS)
Founded in 1941, Auteco is the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the Andean community, and it has grown to become one of Colombia’s largest motorcycle producers, offering several foreign and proprietary motorcycle brands under its umbrella.
In 2016, Auteco’s leadership noticed the growing market for unregistered e-mopeds and realized the opportunities it offered, as no formal motorcycle manufacturer was taking part of it. They developed a proprietary brand (Stärker) powered by lead-acid batteries and, at the same time, created alliances with foreign manufacturers — mainly V-Moto and Lifan — to bring Super Soco and E3 models to Colombia. One would’ve expected things to end there, but Auteco seems to have realized back then what many didn’t: that electric-powered vehicles were poised to bring exorbitant growth sooner than later … and it beats me how, but they started to get ahead of car distributors at their own game.
See, back then, Chinese companies were making a painful effort to gain share in the Latin American markets with their cheap-but-unreliable ICEVs, mainly focusing on very price-sensible segments such as trucks and vans. In Colombia, brands such as Foton, JAC, Dongfeng, and DFSK already had some recognition. However, for whatever reasons (and we can probably guess correctly which ones), local distributors refused to sell EVs from these brands.
Auteco saw the opportunity and seized it. In 2018, it brought its first electric truck into the country under the proprietary brand name Stärk. In 2019, it allied with Zhidou to bring Colombia’s most successful EV so far: the Zhidou D2S. By 2020, it had negotiated exclusive distribution rights from JAC and Dongfeng for all of their EVs (despite other companies already having distribution rights for their ICEVs) and developed a proprietary electric three-wheeler brand (Ceronte). And by 2021, it was the largest EV seller in the country in all segments except personal vehicles and buses (which have always been led by BYD).
This year, Auteco divided its business lines — creating one devoted to EVs specifically (Auteco Blue) — and announced the arrival of three new JAC EV models to Colombia: a large sedan (EJ7), an SUV (E40X), and a pickup truck (T8). And, just this week, a new alliance with CATL was presented.
CATL-Auteco’s Alliance: the e-Lab
Details are still fuzzy, and more information is promised soon. But the gist of the matter is that Auteco will build a lab and technical service centers to diagnose and repair CATL batteries, a service that will be offered for all CATL-powered vehicles regardless of their brand or original seller.
This is massive news for the country. One of the eternal questions about EVs has to do with servicing: once the warranty runs out, what are you to do? Where will you find a repair technician able to deal with your vehicle? Will the brand that sold you the car even exist by then?
Auteco solves all these questions with one simple answer: “Bring them old EVs to us! We will have the technology, the people, and the know-how, to solve any issues you may present! Worry not, dear buyers, for the future is already here!”
This repair center also comes at a great time, for it’s unclear how long-lasting the batteries of small quadricycles — such as the Zhidou D2S — will be, and no doubt this brings trust from previous buyers and confidence for future ones. And, of course, having a general service center for batteries (instead of simply a warranty center that replaces any faulty battery, as BYD does) starts building the infrastructure and human capital required for a not-so-distant future where most vehicles will be EVs.
In the meantime, I count on this being a major sales point for both Auteco and CATL. BYD will have to up its game.
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