Cuba´s car rental agencies gear up for increased Cuban American arrivals

With the landscape of tourism set to change, possibly forever, Cuba´s state owned Transtur, sole national car rental company which collectively controls brands such as REX, Havanautos and CubaCAR is furiously working to modify its 2009 new car purchase allotment to include a high percentage of automatic vehicles. Unlike European tourists who predominantly drive stick shift (manual) vehicles and rent more vehicles to move around than their Canadian counterparts, Cuban Americans typically drive just automatic vehicles many of which only have driving permits to drive automatic vehicles. In the US if one passes the national test for a manual vehicle then the permit is for both manual and automatic vehicles whereas, those who passed their tests in an automatic can only drive such cars. A quirky licensing law but nevertheless true. An official from CubaCAR who commented but, was not authorized to talk to the press, confirmed that orders of certain vehicles from the Korean manufacturer Hyundai had been modified to include 60% automatic vehicles, previously just 10%.

This change may also be in anticipation of a broader opening of tourism from the US which could include academics and educational tourism but, could equally materialize as a complete removal of travel sanctions, in place since the Kennedy era.

The CubaCAR official also commented that the usual order of econobox or Economic cars such as the Hyundai Atos and Kia Picanto, very small European style mini cars, was also being reduced in favor of larger cars preferred by US nationals.

The US has always had a love affair with massive vehicles, seldom seen outside of North America and with these changes Cuba seems to be adapting supply to latent demand, possibly on the not too distant horizon.

Remarkably, due to the embargo, Transtur is unable to acquire vehicles from manufacturers such as Chrysler who need all the help they can get to obvert bankruptcy. This being another example of how the influx of hard currency from Cuban Americans, estimated to be in the billions of dollars, will have little reciprocal advantage for the already strained US economy.

Insiders say that price subsidies on Gasoline could be strained if a massive influx of Cuban Americans transpires. This could be further compounded by the purchase of larger less economical vehicles, a necessary evil based upon US tastes but nonetheless problematic for the Cuban authorities who receive 100,000 barrels of cheap fuel from Venezuela on a daily basis which is the base of the subsidized gasoline sold in the state owned Cupet and Oro Negro gas stations. Fuel, already incredibly expensive at just under 5 USD per gallon or, a third of the average Cuban monthly salary could increase in price placing it out of the reach of those Cuban´s with cars or motorcycles.

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