On a crowded city street in San José in early March, a small orange car about the size of a Shetland pony pulled in front of a bus and nestled between the front grille of the 50-passenger vehicle and the rear of a cargo truck. The contrast in size was comical.
“It looks like a toy!” the bus driver said as he and his passengers watched the small car inch along in traffic. “What is it?”
The car was a Reva, the pint-sized electric car that arrived on the streets of Costa Rica in 2009.
“I think it’s an electric car,” one of the passengers said.
The driver paused.
“Pure electricity? It doesn’t use gasoline?” he asked.
“I think you just have to plug it in,” the passenger said.
“Interesting,” the driver said as he watched the tiny car scoot through traffic. “I didn’t know we had those in Costa Rica.”
Spreading the word about the Reva has been a slow process since it rolled out onto San José’s crowded streets. But that was to be expected. The concept of electric cars is one the world has been slow to latch onto, as some consider the switch from gas pumps to electric outlets more of a neat idea than a reliable investment.
At Expomóvil 2011, the two electric cars on the national market – the Reva and the recently unveiled Mitsubishi i-MiEV – as well as the lone hybrid car in Costa Rica, the Toyota Prius – will try to attract further attention to the clean-energy niche market.
“We have to be realistic about the market size we have for electric and hybrid cars in Costa Rica,” Luis Echeverri, director of Reva’s offices in Costa Rica, told The Tico Times. “It’s not a concept we expect to catch on overnight. It is only slowly starting to catch on in other parts of the world, and we are going to have to be patient with the Costa Rican public in waiting for interest to grow.”
Echeverri added: “But if Costa Rica is serious in its commitment to being a carbon-neutral country by 2021, electric and hybrid cars must be part of the equation.”
The Costa Rican government, it seems, agrees with Echeverri. If Costa Rica is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021, which is the oft-repeated national goal, the success or failure of the mission will be routed through the nation’s exhaust pipes.
On Feb. 25, President Laura Chinchilla and Vice President Alfio Piva were on hand to inaugurate the small, four-door i-MiEV, which can now be seen zipping around the capital. The launch of the i-MiEV in Costa Rica precedes its arrival in the U.S., South America and Chinese markets. The car was available only in Japan and Europe prior to coming to Costa Rica.
After test-driving it around the northwestern San José district of La Uruca, Chinchilla praised the arrival of the i-MiEV and spoke of the importance of electric cars with regard to carbon neutrality.
“Our country has scooped the Americas by being the first country chosen to distribute this ecological and 100 percent electric vehicle,” she said. “This new technology will contribute to our initiative for Costa Rica to reach neutrality between the emissions of oxygen from our forests and the carbon of our production system, consumption and vehicular fleet.”
The upcoming years will be vital for the electric and hybrid car markets, as they push for a lower import tax for clean energy vehicles, as promised by the government, and potentially welcome more electric cars into the national market; both Datsun and Purdy Motor (Toyota) have expressed interest in doing so as early as 2012.
Costa Rica emits an estimated 12 megatons of carbon dioxide each year, with automobiles accounting for 75 percent of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions.
“Transportation is, by far, our biggest challenge,” said Pedro León, director of the Peace with Nature program, a government environmental initiative launched by former President Oscar Arias in 2007. “Many people drive alone, and that’s a habit we need to change, especially with the type of cars we currently have on the road.”
The Reva, i-MiEV and Prius will all be on display at Expomóvil, which runs through March 20 in San Antonio de Belén (see story on Page 9).