Cuba is not all classic American cars with some Russian ones sprinkled in. There is more variety than likely most any other place I can think of. Heck, we saw a Ford Aerostar that by all rights should not have been there being used as a taxi. As part of our taxis from around the world series we took a couple of rides in the ubiquitous (in Cuba as a taxi) Emgrand EC8.
We did not actually set out to sample the Emgrand EC8 but when arriving in Varadero we, unlike most, did not have a bus to catch as we were not staying at a resort. There was a line up of modern taxis ready to take us into town but I thought I would be smart and head over to the near by collection of classic cars in the parking lot to catch a ride. There must have been some sort of rule against offering a ride to passengers outside the taxi line up as none of them were interested in taking us.
A good portion of the modern vehicles in Cuba are Chinese as China is providing a huge amount of investment in the country currently. The official taxi line up was almost all Emgrands but I had never been in a Chinese car so we hailed one. Not that we really had a choice. The car itself was fairly unremarkable but seemingly competent and well put together except for the headliner.
The headliner seemed to be doing its best impression of a Seventies or Eighties American car by being held up by push pins.
So what the heck is an Emgrand? It is a luxury sub-brand of Geely, a Lexus to Toyota if you will. Emgrand was later discontinued as its own marque and rolled into a series under the Geely banner. The EC8 is a mid sized car of roughly Toyota Camry size circa 2010. Our taxi had a five speed manual gearbox which is odd by American or Canadian taxi standards but par for the course in many other places in the world. The engines were supplied by or derived from Mitsubishi designs of either 2.0L or 2.4L.
The Emgrand and its driver reliably brought us to our first casa (you rent a room from a local) and with that we had checked off a Chinese car off our list.
The next morning we headed over to the bus station to figure how we would get to Havana. We managed to determine that there was two buses a day. We seemed to be in line to buy our tickets but after we sitting in the waiting room for over an hour we soon realized that we were actually just on a waiting list as both buses were sold out for the day. More prepared travellers had bought their tickets online before travelling to Cuba. With a couple hours to go before the first bus departure we left to rustle up some lunch wondering if we should wait just to be likely disappointed.
As we came out a taxi driver was standing in front of this lovely Ford. He offered to take us to Havana for a reasonable price which we accepted rather than gambling on two spaces being available on a sold out bus. He then lead us over to … another yellow Emgrand EC8.
Despite the bait and switch we were at least off on our journey and would have some Havana exploring time left in the day once arriving. Note the airbag repair which is probably not worth dwelling on how it happened and to what standard the rest of the car was repaired to. This one had a different style of headliner that appeared better at staying up on its own.
It is about a two and a half hour journey passing through the town Matanzas but luckily the Emgrand proved to be reasonably comfy.
There were plenty of chances to spot many interesting vehicles along the way. Photos were a little harder to get unless they were out the back window. I do find these UAZ vans to be quite charming.
The middle portion of the journey had a variety of forest, small towns and coastal sections.
Here is a very brief video to give you an idea.
Once we got to Havana we gave our driver the address of our next casa. A period of confusion followed when we realized that the address we had been given was not the complete one by Havana standards. We had a number and a street name but we additionally needed the two streets it was between. Otherwise the numbers repeated along the street. This is what the average street looked like and we only had only seen interior shots plus one of the balcony of our casa. We had no phone or data service for the duration of trip either.
Our driver stopped for directions which was not really successful.
It did allow me a chance to take a shot of the household light switch that operated the horn.
Luckily my son somehow recognized the second floor balcony of our casa despite it being repainted since. That unmarked brown door is the entrance.
After climbing the stairs we were met with an interior which was extremely nice but also very pink. The tile was the original flooring.
We had a great view of road from the balcony and were ready for our Havana adventure.
CC Taxi Ride: Re-powered Citroen Traction Avant in Havana, Cuba
CC Taxi Ride: The Other Russian – Moskvitch 2140 in Havana Cuba
CC Taxi Ride: A Cuban Fiberglass Half Coconut
An excellent ride, thank you. I haven’t been in an Emgrand (as far as I can recall) but China itself has lots of…Chinese brand cars, many of which are just as well put together fit and finish-wise as your average iPhone or Laptop, yet often/usually are much less expensive than the equivalent “western” brand. The jury’s out on the longevity of (some of) them but China seems to be making a lot of headway on virtually all continents except for North America. (At least directly anyway, but I’ll guess that 75% or more of Buick Envision owners are not aware that their car was entirely built in China, and an even lower percentage of first generation Equinox owners know the same of their engines etc, with MANY more examples available). Still, with everyone complaining about the high price of cars it would seem to present yet another opportunity, perhaps even by shipping knockdown kits to Mexico, and then assembling them there and transporting them north, as apparently done with lots of TVs and other electronic items already. Bingo, a car built in North America without major tariff as a direct import.
It’s always exciting to at least see the forbidden fruit, it may not often be as tasty as imagined but doesn’t always just taste like chicken either.
It is interesting the lack of acceptance so far in North America. I guess things like pit bikes and scooters are doing well.
I think for many folks a Chinese EV with a lower price tag might be tempting.
BYD was very close to coming, having spent a year and quite a bit of cash to create a plan, but the new IRA act killed that, as it requires sourcing of batteries in NA.
As to ICE cars, the hurdle is still quite high. Setting up a distribution system and all the necessary support is daunting. One or two American companies have already gone bankrupt trying to do so. With the shift to EVs, especially in China, investing in an ICE brand here now probably is a dead end.
BYD (and possibly others) may eventually consider coming, despite the huge investment in building the battery factories as well as for the cars, but by that time, they won’t really have a cost advantage. The cost advantage is due to much lower labor costs in China as well as less regulation, forced overtime, etc..
In the end, we’re not that likely to see Chinese cars sold here. Possibly in Canada, though.
I wonder if it’s possible (well, it surely is I suppose) to A) build a battery factory here or buy product from one of the multiple joint venture ones being constructed currently, none of which are actually on the grounds of a car factory that I am aware of and B) engineer the next generation of Chinese EVs to be like NIO with battery swap tech built in.
Then basically import Gliders, slap the battery in at Port (Nio’s full battery swap tech is down to 3 minutes including systems checks before and after from what I understand), and sell the things with a US (or MEX or CAN) battery pack installed onshore.
Distribution is as you say the biggest hurdle but perhaps Amazon would want to partner with one or more and use some of the space in the hundreds of warehouses popping up everywhere to dedicate a rollup door for service/deliveries. That would possibly create more service points than many current makes have. Make it cheaper than everything else and people will likely bite.
I’m very much oversimplifying but if there is one thing that EVs and many of the new companies have shown over the last decade it’s that “the normal way” of doing things is far from the only way.
The EV tax credit is available only for cars assembled in NA. But if it were cheap enough, screw the tax credit!
FWIW, moving gliders into and out of ships without batteries could be an interesting challenge.
Ah, I somehow overlooked that little aspect. Protectionism is in fact alive and well as is offshoring as long as this is the shore being offshored to by others although I suppose Canada and Mexico count as honorary states in the rule. 🙂 Goose, meet Gander!
I could perhaps see a portable small battery device being used for on/offloading with a mobile “swapper”, if you can in fact change a whole huge battery in three minutes then hooking up a small temp one should not be an unsurmountable challenge either. Or just some sort of tow dolly arrangement.
Or maybe knock down kits that ship to Mexico and then it’s actually “built” there, as with TVs and Fridges etc.
On my many business visits to China I usually had a car (often Buick minivan) and driver provided by our hosts. When we visited our son when he was in school in Beijing, we mostly used public transit as that’s what he was used to, but we did take a taxi once … and it was “London” taxi, TX4. Which is ironically now under the Geely umbrella, though I think this one may have pre-dated that.
Geely briefly produced the generation of TX4 pictured as the Geely Englon TX4, to low sales. It’s plausible that it’s a locally built one.
A general question about cars in Cuba: what was the last date American cars could legally be sold there? The Castro regime took power on the first day of 1959, so there was clearly time for a few months worth of 1959 models to make their way to the island in late 1958. But the breakdown in Cuba-US relations subsequent trade embargoes (in both directions) between Cuba and the US didn’t happen immediately. It became prohibitively expensive to buy an American car in Cuba from what I understand, but did any 1960 or 1961 American cars make it to Cuba before it became outright illegal?
Generally the latest ones you see are 1959 models. Some seem to come in via a third country perhaps. Like this Aerostar for example. Some later examples of British, German or Italian classics car be found from the 1960s.
There were some 1960 Corvairs shipped to Cuba:
Cohort Outtake: 1960 Corvairs Still Hard At Work In Cuba With Lada Engines In Front
BY PAUL NIEDERMEYER – POSTED ON NOVEMBER 11, 2018
“(first posted 3/30/2013) Dave Rush just left this picture and comment on the ’60 Corvair Cohort post: I just got back from a month in Cuba and saw about 10 first generation Corvairs and they all had a front engine/live rear axle drivetrain swap. Ladas were the favourite donor car.
Wow. This is the first I’ve heard of this. It just goes to show how in demand any old car body with wheels is in Cuba. And to what extent they go to keep them on the road. It also shows how the Corvair’s body, which was also used by the Pontiac-Olds-Buick front engine compacts was designed in such a way to make this easy. Don’t try this with a VW or Renault R10…”
Posted March 30, 2013 at 5:42 PM
I would like to find out how they got a Corvair into Cuba, Castro came in January 1959 long before Corvairs came out and its doubtful American cars would have been shipped for much longer as most Westerners fled.
Reply by Paul Niedermeyer
Posted March 30, 2013 at 7:40 PM
The first phase of the US embargo didn’t begin to take effect until October of 1960. Castro didn’t align himself with Russia at first. That only happened increasingly during the first few years after he took over. At first, he wasn’t that big a deal to the US. But when he seized and nationalized US companies and property in July 1960, things began to change quickly…”
That makes sense. Sadly I saw zero Corvairs in my time there.
This Nova perhaps came in from other parts of South American?
That’s most likely an Argentinian built Chevrolet Chevy (I didn’t name them :)). They were built from ’69 to ’78 with very little variations, having as their base the ’68 Chevy II. And there were some loads of them sent over to Cuba.
Another oddity is this Taurus wagon. But it did not make the cut to be re-powered. Almost looks like someone’s home or storage shed.
Hey, the rocker panels look pretty good!
This may be the first time I realized the original Taurus wagon had an exterior mounted third brake light. Certainly common enough in 1986 when it became mandatory although most new designs would integrate it into the window or frame at that time so I wondered when they changed it…. Digging into the rabbit hole I came to realize it was this way (a separate painted bolt-on assembly!) all the way up until 2007 and the debut of the Freestyle, later itself renamed Taurus X. How many millions of painted enclosures does that make?
Oh yeah. In the words of the inimitable Del Griffith. That’ll buff right out, no problem.
Thanks for another excellent and informative post about your Cuba trip. The airbag situation (it looks like maybe the passenger side bag had once deployed as well?) is scary. The horn switch is comical. The fact that the driver had the requisite cluster of Little Trees air fresheners hanging from the mirror is a bit of a touch of home.
I wonder how easy it is import Little Trees to Cuba.
And the headliner on the Emgrand….cripes, it looks like there’s something living/growing up there.
I do wonder if the Little Trees were gifts from tourists? Maybe? Hardly a required staple product.
You’d smell like a chemical pine tree or “Black Ice” the entire trip if you put it in your luggage… 🙂
Chinese cars/SUVs are starting to become ‘normal’ in Australia. The Great Wall debacle of 10-15 years ago (unreliability, lack of parts backup) seems to have been forgotten, and MGs and Havals (Great Wall trying again) are an everyday sight, even in my little country town. A friend has a new Haval Jolion (smallish SUV); I’ve only had a few short rides. Looks nice inside. And there are some Foton pickups around. Last week I saw a BYD, but I’ve never seen an Emgrand or a Geely for that matter. I wonder if they stopped using the Emgrand name because Nissan said it was too similar to their Elgrand? Cherys were famously illegal in my state a few years back because they lacked electronic stability control.
How many Chinese car companies are there nowadays?
The best selling car in the UK in January was the MG ZS. A Chinese brand now made in China.
As a very small market, Uruguay has been in interesting test bed for Chinese cars, especially very cheap ones. They began to trickle in around 08, and were despised. They’d break, period. There were several trucklets that were cheap enough to be of interest to handymen, and they sold. By 2010 Chery was bringing in the QQ, a copy of a Spark, and BYD was selling the F3, a copy of a Corolla. Both models were shabby but strong enough to withstand use. The F3 after awhile was adopted as a taxi, and still is after about 10 years. The cars are used for about 400.000 km, with no major issues. Then they are sold as private cars, for low prices. They won’t pass crash tests with good marks, but are reliable. There are lots of Chinese brands here now, including mid priced ones. Generally speaking, you can get a Chinese SUV for the price of a traditional brand one size smaller. Most of them DO have good safety ratings. Geely’s acquisition of Volvo and China’s need to sell products everywhere have produced a new generation of good quality products. I had a Chery Fulwin Sedan for 3 years, 2013 to 2016, and it had several issues that my mechanic said were probably due to bad assembly rather than design or pure quality. Nonetheless, I sold it with 35000 km. That wouldn’t happen today.
On my first visit to China I was agog at all of the different brands and just sheer quantity of cars everywhere, somewhere I had internalized my grade school lessons where the Chinese were on bicycles pretty much exclusively. 30 years has a way of changing things.
The taxi fleets varied hugely depending on where we were in the country, in one place the local VW MkII Jetta variant was the predominant taxi (still being built around 2009 or so) and in another the BYD was everywhere, although it was one that looked like a contemporary Hyundai Elantra to me but may have been an F3 I guess. Looking at them from inside and out they didn’t look any worse than a stateside Elantra or Corolla of similar vintage.
Nowadays with the proliferation (and success) of several new vehicle brands such as Tesla and Rivian along with Lucid etc I believe that opens up a whole new window to introducing a new “brand” that simply didn’t exist twenty years ago. Even when there was a new brand from a current manufacturer (Saturn, Scion, Infiniti etc) generally it was known who was behind it, now with new standalone companies popping up I believe there may be more acceptance to previously unknown names in general. Get the price lower and boom, you’re in business, just make sure the quality is a little bit better off the bat than that of Yugo and Hyundai 35 years ago.
Taxi vehicle models in China definitely vary by location, and often for provincial or local reasons. In Beijing, much of the taxis are Hyundais (Sonatas and/or Elantras) given that Hyundai makes them in a factory locally. Similarly, in Shanghai, the bulk of the taxis are VWs (Santanas, Jettas) also because VW has a local plant there.
Never heard of the Emgrand – guess it was short lived.
When I sold the Fulwin, I test drove an Emgrand (that was the reason I began to comment…..sorry). It was comfortable, ample, low powered (1.8), imprecise gear shift, noisy engine and suspension. But it cost about the same as a small Brazilian VW Gol (Gol, no Golf). During a brief period Geely sold many of those. Now, save for a couple of low budget models, they sell SUVs in the VW Tiguan class. For the price of a T-Cross
God forbid should relations between the US and Cuba ever normalize. There”ll be a mad rush to build franchise hotels, casinos, highways, cell phone towers, and high rise condo complexes. Won’t be much different than Miami after ten years.
I say this based on my driving tour of Poland just before COVID. So reminded me of the US in the mid 60’s with 4 lane highways, brand new shopping centers, and a KFC/Burger King at every highway exit. Wish I had visited 10-15 years earlier to get a better feel of Central Europe.