Electromobility in Chile: Public Transportation at The Forefront

SANTIAGO – Electromobility is here to stay in Chile. Public transportation has become the main driver of the industry, with hundreds of buses already in service and more on the way. Private transportation, however, lags behind, primarily due to cost. 

As reported by CNN Chile, electromobility is not new to Chile. It has long been present in the country through the well-known trolleybuses of Valparaíso and the underground trains of the Santiago Metro.

Electricity-driven transportation gaining ground

Electricity-driven transportation is now, however, gaining strength in Chile, across various areas of Chilean life, from the public to the personal.

In the first days of August, for example, 100 new electric buses were incorporated into the current public transportation fleet of Santiago, known as RED; and, according to the Ministry of Transportation, another 183 are on the way for Metbus and 25 for Redbus. They will join the 411 already in service in the city.

These 100% electric buses are changing more than just the fuel for public transportation; they are changing the very feel of it—through modernization that not only allows more space, but also other benefits for users such as air conditioning, security cameras, cabins for drivers, free WiFi networks and USB ports, and, above all, no emissions and no noise pollution.

As for maintenance, the buses do need charging, for which the transportation authorities inaugurated the first electro-terminal in the country, located in Rinconada, in the commune of Maipú, which has the largest installed power in Latin America (6 MW).

The charging process takes about 3 hours and gives the buses a 250 km range—about four routes per day per bus. The operational costs of these buses are also 76% less than conventional buses which use fossil fuels—only CLP$70 (US$0.10) per km for electric buses versus CLP$300 (US$0.42) for conventional buses.

When asked about public transportation’s future, Sebastián Genta, a transportation engineer at Seremitt (Regional Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications), said that it is expected that by 2040 “the entire public transportation fleet will be electric.” He added that this presents a “challenge” for the government, however, because electric buses are much more expensive to build and buy than conventional diesel buses and that to achieve this goal, “the State will have to have a very active role.”

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 Private transportation continues to lag but will catch up when prices fall

Electromobility still has not penetrated the private, personal sector as much as hoped.

According to the official figures of the National Automotive Association of Chile (ANAC), in 2018 only 129 electric cars were sold in Chile, marking only 0.2% of the total market share.

Moreover, the market—if it can even be called that it’s so small—only grew 3.2% compared to 2017, when 125 cars were sold.

In an interview with Publimetro, Alberto Escobar, Mobility Manager of the Automobile Club of Chile, indicated that he believed that more widespread use of electric cars was still a ways off in the future, due to the high price of electric cars.

Escobar is nevertheless optimistic and estimates that “in ten years or less, the difference in the price between an electric and a conventional [car] will be very low. At that point, 40% of the vehicle fleet will be electric.”

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