The Vespa story, c. 2017
You’re familiar with the story of the first Vespa, right? If not, here it is: Piaggio & C. SpA, seeking new lines of business, introduces the first Vespa scooter to a poor Italy recovering from the ravages of WWII, to help satisfy its pent-up demand for personal transportation. That first Vespa is a simple, inexpensive device that’s easy to ride, and addresses what its designer considered the downsides of motorcycle ownership.
That story is playing out in Cuba, as the U.S. continues the normalization of relations with the Caribbean island nation.
People in Cuba aren’t what you’d call rich. Cuba’s National Statistics and Information Bureau (ONEI) reports mean salaries in the hundreds of Cuban convertible pesos (CUP) per month. That’s true even for doctors and other professionals. Because, communism.
Auto spy photographer and scooter fan Brenda Priddy, whose photos you see here, has been leading group trips to Cuba for a few years now. On her most recent trip, she noted increasing numbers of Chinese-made electric motorcycles like the Jaguar pictured above.
In Cuba, electricity is one cent/kWh. Gasoline is $3.75/U.S. gallon, give or take. (CUP is pegged to the U.S. dollar) Even something as thrifty as a 125cc motorbike is probably not thrifty enough if you only earn a few hundred pesos per month.
An electric motorcycle is probably easier to own than a typical Cuban car.
No, the old American (and British, and German, and French) cars plying Havana’s streets are mostly not pristine classics. They’re more like this Opel (I think that’s what it is), held together with duct tape, bailing wire and lots of Bondo. And often powered by industrial diesel engines adapted to use in cars and trucks.
There are newer cars on Cuba’s roads, but my understanding is they’re owned by the government for rental to tourists. There are no car dealers, and when the government puts the rentals up for sale, they go for six-figure sums no Cuban can afford. So it will be bikes that put Cuba on wheels, just as the Vespa did in Italy.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what kind of range you could expenct or how much recharging time the Jaguar bike requires. But skipping 2-stroke ICE engines and going straight to electrics not only works for average Cubans, it means they will be that much further along when they’re ready for new cars and trucks. Outside of the U.S., everyone recognizes the inevitability of electric vehicles, and is preparing for them.
Whether Cubans will want to be Mods remains to be seen.