That was the question Shilpan Amin, President of General Motors International, asked Colombia’s GM team during his visit to this country on February 2 after hearing them say that Colombia’s government was committed to the energy transition. A small question, and yet, it has an entire country dreaming.
Mr. Amin’s visit to GM Colmotores Plant, located in Bogota (capital of Colombia), happened on February 2nd, which had been declared a “Car Free Day.” This is important because it served to portray Colombia’s commitment to alternative mobility, but also because it meant Mr. Amin could only move around in an electric vehicle, specifically a Chevy Bolt EUV, which has only been sold in the country for a couple months.
The visit involved checking the production lines for the Chevrolet Joy (sadly, an ICE vehicle), talking about future investments in the country, and, of course, taking the opportunity provided by the Car Free Day to present alternatives for moving around without burning oil. The visit ended with the question that we mentioned at the beginning.
The response inside the country was massive. Every single news outlet published an article claiming Colombia would become Latin America’s first country to produce GM EVs locally. Some went as far as saying that GM Colmotores would be the first Latin American plant at all to produce EVs, which is of course wrong, as that honor belongs to Ford’s Cuatitlan Plant, located in Mexico DF. Regardless, for a country that has never had a large car-manufacturing base (and that lost one of its three vehicle assembly plants during the past decade), the opportunity to become the first one to produce GM’s EVs in South America is not going to be met with indifference.
But, if this is to happen, how exactly would it look?
GM has had presence as a manufacturing leader in Colombia since 1979, when it purchased the Colmotores factory previously owned by Chrysler. After the oil shock of 2014, it ceased to produce personal vehicles and focused on trucks and buses, only restarting automobile production in 2023 with the Chevrolet Joy.
From Colmotores, GM towers over a rather minuscule vehicle market: a mere 250,000 cars are sold yearly in Colombia. Because of this, the plant capacity stands at a paltry 36,000 cars a year, and even then, most of these will go to other countries (only 30% are expected to be sold locally). This means that even if Colombia is leading the EV revolution in Latin America so far, the market itself is in the low hundreds (most of which are sold by Chinese brands). To provide an idea of the scales we are talking about, only 16 Chevy Bolts were sold during the first month of 2023.
The reasons vary, but the most pressing one is probably price. The Chevy Bolt is currently being sold at 205,089,570 COP ($42,000 USD) despite having no tariffs and only a 5% VAT. A rough comparison is usually made between the Chevy Bolt EUV and the similarly sized Chevrolet Tracker (ICE) that costs half the price (100,000,000 COP or $20,500 USD). That makes it hard for people to consider the Bolt an affordable vehicle at all, more so in a relatively poor country (and region) where most new cars are priced under $20,000 USD.
This means that if GM is to build (or assemble) an EV in its Colmotores plant, it’ll need to fulfill one or more of these conditions:
- A vastly lower price for the vehicle, perhaps not much more expensive than the Chevrolet Joy ($13,000 USD).
- A focus on exports, providing this vehicle to the entirety of Latin America from Colombia.
- The means for manufacturing a low number of vehicles while maintaining profitability.
My guess is that, if it happens, it’ll be a mix between lower prices and exports. However, since GM so far has not announced anything cheaper than the $30,000 USD Chevrolet Equinox EV, I think it may take a while. Or, perhaps, GM is working on cheaper offerings for developing nations. One can dream.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the response given to Mr. Amin’s question was a resounding