Following the U.S. Trade Embargo that Cuban leader Fidel Castro initiated in 1960, the flow of U.S.-made vehicles in Cuba came to an abrupt halt, giving the island’s nearly 30,000 kilometers of paved roads the appearance that the country had been frozen in time. The majority of cars on Cuba’s roadways since then are a 1950s vision of pastel, chrome and tail fins. Yet, while this has added a certain retro flair to the country’s aesthetic, maintaining these vehicles became another matter, given that Cuban motorists could no longer gain access to replacement parts. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that there are roughly 60,000 American vehicles still in use in Cuba, nearly all privately owned.
With President Barack Obama’s recent move to once again open up relations with Cuba, could this create opportunity for the automotive industry? It’s hard not to see big opportunity for both auto parts distribution as well as new vehicle sales.
However, Lauren Valiente writes on Foley & Lardner’s autoindustrylawblog.com that it is unlikely, at least right away. According to her report, current law still prohibits the export of U.S.-made automobiles and auto parts to Cuba. Changing that law would require Congressional approval, she said. Valiente added that the industries most likely to see immediate benefit from increased U.S.-Cuban relations would be banking, travel, agriculture, residential construction and the telecommunications industry.
While U.S. imports are still banned, the Cuban government has eased restrictions on selling privately owned vehicles and buying new vehicles in recent years. Since 2009, Chinese automaker Geely has imported sedans on to the island for use in taxi and rental fleets as well as police cars. According to a report from Detroit News, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for an end to the trade embargo, which could provide a boost to U.S. manufacturing, among other opportunities.