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Plugging In the Cars of the Caymans



Islands are a near perfect venue for electric cars. Distances are usually short, speed limits typically low, and the cost of energy nearly exorbitant; both petrol and electricity. On top of that, temperatures, especially in the Caribbean, are moderate and the terrain can be relatively flat on many of the islands.


One of those ‘ideal’ islands is Grand Cayman, a fishhook of land 90 miles off the southern coast of Cuba, whose biggest claim to fame in the modern world is the electronic banking equivalent of Switzerland. Its strong British heritage – yes they drive on the right-side of the road – has made it one of the top choices for sheltering corporate fortunes from inconvenient national taxes.


study by the U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice found that 64 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a subsidiary in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands as of 2013. In 2011, it was estimated that US firms were sheltering in the neighborhood of US$1.4 trillion in the Cayman Islands alone []. This has generated a per capita GDP comparable to the USA of $43,800 compared to nearby Jamaica where its $9,300 per person.


Given this favorable climate economically, politically, and weather-wise, it would be only natural for electric cars to establish a beachhead on this centrally located spit of land in the middle of the blue Caribbean; and the ‘beachmaster’ of the EV invasion is former Chrysler executive John Felder.


After 25 years with the Auburn Hills carmaker, Felder ‘retired’ to Grand Cayman in the early 2000s, starting Cayman Automotive in 2005. The company imports and leases conventional gasoline cars, but almost from the beginning, Felder wanted to import electric cars. The first EVs, he points out, where GEM neighborhood electric vehicles, which around this time was owned by Chrysler Corporation. It was in 2007 that he began negotiations with Wheego, an Atlanta-based importer/modifier of small, two-place cars similar to the Smart car, but built in China and upgraded in the USA.


At the time, the import duty on electric cars, as well as gasoline models, was a whopping 42%. So, besides working with Wheego while they went through NHTSA crash testing, Felder also began lobbying the Cayman government to update his motor vehicle codes and reduce the tariff on EVs. That effort took seven years, but resulted in the third lowest import duty for EVs in the Caribbean basin behind Bermuda (0%) and Aruba (2%). The duty is now just 10%. John is also working on developing an eight-island dealer network for electric vehicles. As a result of his efforts you can now rent electric cars from Budget Rental Cars on Grand Cayman and charge them with solar energy or from a growing network of public chargers around the island.



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