Costa Rica’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2021 is becoming complicated by the increasing number of motor vehicles transiting her roadways. This would not be a problem if a great number of cars, trucks and motorcycles in Costa Rica were energy-efficient or featured low-emission systems, but the sad truth is that the majority of them aren’t.

In Costa Rica only two Hybrid models are available for sale, the Prius and Camry from Toyota.
In Costa Rica only two Hybrid models are available for sale, the Prius and Camry from Toyota.

According to a recent news report by radio station Monumental, 93.5 FM, the General Customs Service in Costa Rica reports that only 157 hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf, have entered the country in the last five years. This is exacerbated by the fact that more Ticos are interested in acquiring cars thanks to increased marketing by auto dealer and greater availability of credit for auto loans. Costa Rica is clearly turning car-crazy; buyers are shrugging off the exorbitant taxes on motor vehicles and purchasing them at a fast clip, but Tico buyers just aren’t into environmentally-friendly cars that much.

There is a very slight glimmer of hope in that last year was the best on record for orders of hybrid and electric vehicles in Costa Rica; the bad news, however, is that it was a very low number: 55. Compare that to the 7,800 used and 16,000 new cars that entered out country in 2012 -and many of them were gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

New Incentives Are Not Enough

The administration of President Laura Chinchilla has tried to implement incentives to increase the number of low-emission, energy-efficient cars in Costa Rica. The latest incentive is a tax break on these vehicles, which could cap them at a 10 percent maximum rate of sales tax. In an interview with Radio Monumental, the director of corporate affairs for Purdy Motor -a major Toyota auto dealer in Costa Rica, explained that this tax reduction follows other government initiatives such as subsidies for bus companies and taxicab fleets to replace their aging fleets with hybrid and electric vehicles, but he also said that the new consumer incentive may not be enough.

Minister of the Environment explained that car buyers in Costa Rica could save on average $1,300 when they purchase a “green car.” This may not be enticing enough for Tico car buyers, who may need extra motivation to get behind the wheel of a hybrid or electric motor vehicle. Incentives at the dealer or financing levels may work out better, but thus far there are no plans to implement them.