April 22, 2017 / 2:34 AM / 4 months ago

Miami electric car dealer sees opportunity in Cuban gas shortage

HAVANA (Reuters) - An electric car dealer with a Miami subsidiary is telling Cuba-based diplomats struggling with a gasoline shortage on the Communist-run Caribbean island that they should fret no longer.

The United States, which maintains a trade embargo on Cuba, licensed Premier Automotive Export to sell vehicles to non-state entities in Cuba, such as embassies and private companies, as part of detente under former president Barack Obama.

"We put together a special offer and are distributing the flier - a 2016 Nissan Leaf electric sedan, plus super charger, for $25,000, including shipping direct from Miami to Mariel Port," said John Felder, owner of Premier's Cayman Islands-based parent, Automotive Leasing and Sales Co.

The cash-strapped Cuban government cut back deliveries of high-octane gasoline this month, sending diplomats, other foreigners and better-off Cubans scrambling to locate fuel and waiting in long lines to fill up their cars.

It was not clear how long the shortage would last, and the government has not commented on the situation.

Most Cubans who own cars, mainly vintage American and Soviet-era models, use lesser-quality fuel that can damage modern engines.

To date, Felder has sold just one of his vehicles, to the Guyanese Embassy before the shortages began.

Ambassador Halim Majeed said his government purchased the car as part of its green energy initiative, but now it has proved handy indeed.

An electric car (R) recently acquired by Guyana Embassy is seen beside a vintage car during a ride for journalists in Havana, Cuba, April 14, 2017. Picture taken April 14, 2017.Alexandre Meneghini

“I'm lucky, and I'm happy about that," He said.

Majeed said other diplomats had always shown interest in his electric car, but there was more now.

Guyana Ambassador Halim Majeed (R), talks to his driver as he shows a recently acquired electric car at the embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 14, 2017. Picture taken April 14, 2017.Alexandre Meneghini

"It is natural that when one faces an issue, you devise ways and means to overcome that challenge," he said, "and in this situation, the electrical vehicle can help do that."

Cuba depends on crisis-racked ally Venezuela for about 70 percent of its fuel needs, including oil for refining and re-exports.

But socialist Venezuela’s subsidized shipments have fallen by as much as 40 percent since 2014. Potential new suppliers usually want cash due to Cuba's poor credit rating.

Two of three Cuban refineries have closed or have operated well below capacity for months.

Swedish Ambassador Jonas Loven said he would "think seriously" about Premier's offer the next time the embassy changes its official car.

"It would send a good CO2 message as well," Loven said. "Unfortunately, we just bought a new Mercedes."

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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