COCHABAMBA, Bolivia – A Bolivian startup is betting on the Andean nation’s push to mine the world’s largest lithium deposits, building tiny electric cars that it hopes will be adopted across Latin America with locally produced batteries.
“The form of electric mobility we are proposing is electric micromobility,” said Jose Carlos Marquez, co-owner of Quantum, a niche carmaker based in the city of Cochabamba.
The company builds small, quirky automobiles that can seat up to three passengers and go no faster than 55km (34mph) per hour. But Marquez points out that most drivers in Latin America neither travel long distances nor have high average speeds due to a chronic stall.
Quantum has only produced 1,500 vehicles so far, including cars and motorcycles, and hopes to export 500 more this year.
Its lithium batteries are produced overseas, despite Bolivia being located in the world’s largest lithium deposit in the Uyuni salt flats. This, Marquez hopes, may soon change.
Left-wing President Luis Arce is pushing to industrialize his vast lithium resources before his term ends in 2025, even though his allies don’t expect the country to produce significant amounts of lithium before 2030, according to a recent report. Reuters.
Over the past decade, Bolivia has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into lithium mining, but has produced very little of the battery metal, partly due to impurities.
While lithium is the key to making batteries, so are other metals such as nickel and cobalt that Bolivia does not produce and should import.
“Normally, we associate electromobility with Tesla, but it’s false to say that all combustion engine cars are BMW or Mercedes Benz,” said Marquez. “Of course those cars are beautiful and we would all like to have them, but they exist very far from the reality of Latin America.”