Bolivians, Mexicans team up to produce affordable EVs with Bolivian lithium

Bolivian and Mexican entrepreneurs plan to produce in Mexico for the Mexican market the Quantum model, a small EV vehicle designed in Bolivia with a 31-mile driving range between charges already sold in Latin America and starting to circulate the region´s densely populated cities.

Image courtesy of Quantum. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard shared in Twitter a video showing this car´s on-road performance.

The price is a fraction of what a U.S.-made EV costs. This EV´s promise is to deliver basic transportation that may be a greener alternative and cheaper to gasoline cars. Some models sell for a full price of about $7500, or about the same the U.S. has allowed for a dozen years for individual tax deductions as federal incentives for EV purchases.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard drove in early August 2022 in Bolivia an EV made by Bolivia-based Quantum when he announced the car will aim for the Mexican market. Mexico has a 130 million population and a GDP per capita of just under $10,000.

“Available in 2023 in Mexico, thanks to the Alliance Quantum and Mexico´s Potencia Industrial. It will be the cheapest electric vehicle in our country,” tweeted Mexico´s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Strong Mexican-Bolivian ties

Ebrard also met during a regional trip to some South American countries with Bolivia´s former president Evo Morales (2006-2019). Morales received asylum in Mexico during the 2019 confrontations that resulted in Bolivia being led for a year by a temporary government.

Ebrard, Mexico´s foreign minister since the start of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador´s term, has been credited by Morales for saving his life thanks to the asylum Mexico granted him in 2019. Morales later returned to Bolivia.

In October 2020, after new elections were held in Bolivia in which Morales didn´t participate, the vote was won by Luis Arce for a five-year term. Arce was minister of finance under Morales.

Bolivians analysis of 2019 coup

Arce said that Bolivia´s current government “has absolutely clear” that the 2019 political violence was over lithium, according to Mexico´s Proceso newspaper. The report was published after Arce and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador met at the headquarters of the Mexican Executive on March 24, 2021 for a joint presser.

Arce said in that joint press conference that the Nov. 2019 political actions to oust Morales intended to break up accords between Morales and German companies willing to transfer technology instead of just seeking an extraction concession to take the lithium overseas for batteries manufacturing outside Bolivia.

Arce then said that a political rival candidate to Morales, former opposition vice presidency candidate Samuel Doria Medina, had publicly supported granting lithium concession to a large U.S. EV producer.

In 2019 the opposition, along with the military, ousted Morales and replaced him with the leader of Congress. That opposition-led government allegedly was also responsible for stopping a fertilizers plant for nearly two years, according to Arce´s government.

Bolivia holds world´s biggest lithium reserves

According to the U.S. Geological Survey published in 2021, Bolivia has 21 million tons and the biggest resources, while Argentina has just over 19 million tons.

Other countries with large lithium resources include Chile, with nearly ten million tons. Lithium resources in the U.S. are just below at 7.9 million tons.

Australia, with over six million tons, and China, with five million tons, as well as Congo, Canada and Germany, that have close to three million tons, also hold large volumes.

The U.S. Geological Survey finally lists Mexico, with 1.7 million tons of lithium reserves, Czechia, with 1.3 million tons, and Serbia, with 1.2 million tons. Peru, Mali, Zimbabwe, Brazil and Spain have under one million tons.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Aug. 5, 2022 that Mexico will exploit its lithium reserves through a state company and make resources available to auto or autoparts makers that set up production in Mexico.

From etricycles and ebicycles to autos

Bolivian entrepreneurs Jose Carlos Marquez and Carlos Soruco started up Industrias Quantum Motors in 2019 to assemble and market ebikes and etricycles with the mission of contributing to cleaner air with an affordable EV. By that year Quantum had started marketing the E2 and E3, the first EVs.

Quantum shipped 230 EVs to Peru in 2020, its first year of exports. In 2021 it added Paraguay to its export markets and built-up Bolivian distributors. In 2021 Quantum and Mexico´s Potencia Industrial held their first talks. Quantum added lithium batteries to its cars in 2022.

David vs. Goliath?, which closely follows Tesla, announced on Aug. 5, 2022 that the company´s production surpassed the three-million mark. 

“10 years ago, we had made less than 3,000 cars, now here we stand, 10 years later, having made 3 million cars,” Tesla´s owner Elon Musk reportedly said during the annual shareholder meeting on Aug. 4.

Bolivia´s Quantum is shadowed by rivals from more developed countries in terms of the capacity from its home-country Bolivia to support the company´s development and help it reach markets. Bolivia, a country of 12 million, had a $3,000 per-capita GDP in 2020.

But Mexico has long been in the list of top 10 countries for auto production of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers. Most of the world´s major brands have assembly lines there.

Musk, also behind efforts to enable travel to other planets through a company named Space X, has seen federal and other incentives that only a very wealthy nation could afford.

A U.S. News and World Report from June 13, 2013 pointed that in addition to government loans Tesla has received, there are large incentives.

“For each purchase of a new Tesla acquired for personal use, the federal government offers a $7,500 federal tax credit. In addition, various states offer additional income-tax credits, including $6,000 in Colorado and $7,500 in West Virginia,” that 2013 report said.

Bloomberg News said on Aug. 2, 2022 legislators planned to renew the federal tax credit for EVs. Talks revolve around new conditions, such as country of origin or union participation.

Unlike all other U.S.-based car producers, Tesla´s U.S. workforce isn´t unionized. Tesla has about 100,000 workers globally. 

Bolivia started to develop an industry based on downstream oil and gas, as well as minerals, like for example fertilizers, in 2006 after Morales nationalized hydrocarbons.

Tesla inroads in Mexico

According to a July 22, 2022 report by electrek, Tesla reached an accord with the Mexican State of Nuevo Leon, with its capital Monterrey, for an express border-cross lane to speed up work with Mexican suppliers in that region. Crossing the border line for regular citizens can take hours but traveling north.

Tesla´s international production includes plants in China and Germany. In Texas it makes EVs in Austin while Space X is based in Brownsville, on the two countries southernmost border.

By Renzo Pipoli