Rural America's roads could look like Cuba in 20 years

All these stories of Cubans keeping old American cars on the road are absolutely true. It’s out of necessity: Trade embargoes keep both...


All these stories of Cubans keeping old American cars on the road are absolutely true. It’s out of necessity: Trade embargoes keep both American cars and parts out of the island, and available foreign cars – new and used – are fine. financially out of reach for all but the richest Cubans. For this reason, they are the ultimate for scavengers, vehicle manufacturers and mechanics.

On a trip to Havana in January 2018, our guide for the week was a gracious lady who drove a beautifully appointed 1950s Chevrolet. One evening, on our way to dinner, we hopped into the big yellow Chevrolet and started rolling down the road. A block later, his transmission dropped.

The driver called a cab and we made our way to our meal, not knowing who would come and pick us up once our plates were clean. Almost two hours later, we were surprised to see the yellow Chevrolet waiting in the parking lot, its transmission fully functional.

In the United States, such a quick fix would only be possible if a fully compatible drivetrain was lying around in a given garage, ready for installation in the blink of an eye (or drivetrain). Here, such a scenario would be very rare, but that is another story in Cuba.

“I know people who have all the spare parts available in their garage in case their car breaks down,” said Paolo Spadoni, associate professor at Augusta University in Georgia with expertise in Cuban affairs.

As the world’s cars become electric, it might make sense to assume that the mechanical magic required to fix a classic internal combustion car in two hours will become a deeply diminished skill. After all, President Biden announced that he would like electric vehicles to account for 50% of all new car sales in the United States by 2030. Fully electric vehicles currently account for about 2% of new car sales in the United States.

While the cause may not be the trade embargoes but rather this upcoming generational shift towards electric cars, experts say it’s possible America’s roads will look like Cuba for a while, with older cars running on electric cars. Gasoline engines kept in circulation long after they would normally have been swapped out for another combustion model.

“We think there will be Cuba, especially in the rural areas of the United States,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive. Advances in batteries will be crucial in advancing the number of electric cars on the road, she added. “Reach is really important for people living in remote places; you have to travel long distances just to get to the grocery store, ”Ms. Krebs said.

Simply put, a lot has to happen over the next nine years for Mr Biden’s goal to be achievable from a distance. Electric cars must become more affordable. The battery life should increase significantly. Charging stations must become as common as gas stations. And the time it takes to charge an electric car should be more like filling a tank.

Cubans, meanwhile, are limited to renting the Chinese-made Chery Arrizo 5th, according to Carla Bailo, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

And that’s not the only problem. “Electricity in Cuba is in crisis, given that Venezuela supplies the lowest oil on record to Cuba,” said Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, native of Cuba and director of the Center for Economic Research at the International University of Florida. “I don’t know of any electric chargers in Cuba.”

Colorado is one of the most progressive states in the United States when it comes to providing charging stations in remote locations. Still a recent New York Times article about a road trip there in an electric car detailed a weekend spent constantly worrying about where to plug in next.

“The anxiety of the lineup – it’s a real thing that needs to be understood when people go on road trips,” said Jason Courter, chief operating officer at Bellevue Honda in Washington and former president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

“You really have to chart your course when you’re driving an electric vehicle,” Courter added. “We’re going to need to have a much larger charging infrastructure – turning rest areas into charging stations. The average gas station stop takes about 10 minutes. Just to get a trickle charge, you have 20 minutes to half an hour more, with fewer opportunities to get them.

During this electric transition, cars will not be classics of the sock age, but they may soon show their age. “The average vehicle on American roads is getting older, not younger, so people hold onto vehicles much longer,” Ms. Krebs said. “Gasoline vehicles will be around for a long time, even if we hit 50% by 2030.”

Ms. Bailo owns a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, which you are more likely to find on the roads of Havana. “Right now, the average American can only afford a 14-year-old car,” she said.

She added: “Old cars are not complex. Bodies last forever, so you only deal with engine parts. It’s simple. There aren’t a lot of rooms there.

Mr. Salazar-Carrillo recalled his own tedious journey with another professor at the University of Vermont.

“He had to calculate because there weren’t a lot of power stations,” Salazar-Carrillo said, adding that a stop to recharge had taken almost an hour. “I think combustion engine cars are going to be phased out more slowly than you think. There will still be families and businesses that revert to gasoline-powered cars. Regular cars could follow the way you see things in Cuba. “

Mr Salazar-Carrillo and Mr Courter question how green electric vehicles really are, highlighting their potential to tax already strained power grids, as well as the battery manufacturing process.

“A lot of people are worried about how this is going to tax the grid, especially with the gradual brownouts in California,” Courter said. “Part of the message behind electricity is that it is clean. But what did it take to build this battery? You still needed factories, and you still needed mining, which from everything I’ve read is not the cleanest process.

The power source is central.

“If it’s a coal-fired power plant on the road that turns this electric car on, it’s a bit of a wash,” said Ty Monroe, director of Northern European Auto Recyclers in Seattle, where the Teslas appear to be. multiply like jack rabbits. “But it’s a net gain here in the Northwest, because we have hydropower.”

Mr. Monroe’s Junkyard specializes in the recovery and repair of old Volvos – Volvo being a manufacturer that has is committed to going all-electric by 2030. Therefore, it is in his interest that old cars stay on the road as long as they can. Still, he expects electrification to be inevitable.

“The days of the internal combustion engine are numbered,” he said. “It makes sense that Volvo sticks to its lineage and wants to be environmentally friendly and at the forefront. If those parts get darker, it only increases the value of a 60s muscle car and having parts that can get it on the road. As we go electric it will be a boom in the short term, but 100 years from now, good luck scrapping and finding part for a gasoline car.

A century later, it’s a safe bet that there will be highways in the sky and we will all be Jetsons – if the planet will still have us by then. In the near future, however, things could get a bit odd, with well-preserved F-150 colonies roaring around rural roads in search of a genuine gas station while their electric counterparts are rejuvenated by a plentiful supply. of urban extensions.

And barring a revolution, Cubans will always drive the cars that remind us of the good times, the cars that remind us of the best times.

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