Electric vehicles and Tesla ascendant

A Tesla electric vehicle at the newest charging station in Bodden Town.

John Felder, president of Cayman Automotive and the island’s only vendor of electric vehicles, says nearly 35 of the cars are on local roads, with another two on the Brac. That total, he says, almost quadruples the 10 in the Bahamas. He predicts steady, if gradual, growth as he launches imports of U.S.-built Tesla cars.

Already, he has sold at least three, including Tesla’s latest design – an SUV boasting a startling gull-wing design – and two “S” models: The P-85 “performance” sedan will be the first right-hand drive electric vehicle in the Caribbean, he says.

The cars are expensive – the SUV tops $100,000. Nonetheless, Felder believes a local market exists, and anticipates moving 10 units per year.

“We service everything we sell,” he says, which includes Chevy and Ford EVs and hybrids, as well as China-made, Japan-made and U.S.-made combustion-engine cars and trucks. An authorized Tesla mechanic will visit Cayman every six months or, Felder says, “as needed” when a vehicle requires maintenance.

However, on March 31 in Los Angeles, Tesla chief Elon Musk announced a potential “game changer”: a four-door EV sedan priced at US$35,000, described by the CEO as an effort to bring electric cars to the masses.

The car will travel 215 miles on a single charge.

While the “Model 3” will not be delivered until next year, Felder said he had already ordered two: “This one vehicle is a game changer,” he said, hoping Musk would not boost the price in the face of furious demand. “A Tesla that you can purchase for under $40k is clearly going to make an impact on the market.”

Since 2012, Felder has opened 10 charging stations around Grand Cayman, stretching from East End’s Wyndam Hotel to West Bay’s Cayman Motor Museum. Grand Harbour – next door to the Cayman Automotive showroom – boasts another as does Hurley’s, Governors Square and Camana Bay. Next on the schedule is Kaibo, to be followed by Kirk Supermarket, HealthCity and unserved Foster’s locations in George Town, Savannah and East End.

On March 17, Felder joined owners of Bodden Town’s Lorna’s Rubis – MLA and Minister of Community Affairs, Youth and Sports Osbourne Bodden and his son Alexis – and Umar Michla, managing director of Tesla’s overseas distributor Royal Imperial U.K., to open the first combination petrol and charging station in the Caribbean.

“They called me and asked,” said Felder. “These guys are sharp; they don’t miss a trick. They have the Fish Shack there, a liquor store and a convenience store, so while you’re spending 20 minutes topping-up your charge, you’re going to have a drink and maybe something to eat.”

At the opening, Minister Bodden said he hoped to boost a “greener Cayman,” while son Alexis said “we thought it a good idea to jump on board. We spoke to parent company Rubis, they did not have a problem with it.”

Consolidating the appeal of the new service, Lorna’s top-ups are free, raising the specter that, with a little planning, electric vehicle owners may never again have to pay for fuel.

If they do, however, CUC’s TOU scheme could further reduce the at-home costs of between $3.50 and $4 for an overnight charge.