Speciality automobiles running on any blend of petrol and ethanol were Brazil’s novel approach to reducing tailpipe emissions for two decades, helping the country boast just a quarter of the road pollution of other nations its size.
While other countries are pushing the EV agenda, Brazil is standing its ground while several of the other leading economies in the world set out specific plans to ultimately stop selling automobiles with combustion engines. The most widely used models in the nation are so-called flexible-fuel cars that can operate entirely on biofuel made from sugar cane, making them generally more environmentally friendly than pure petrol engines.
According to the Secretary for Industrial Development Uallace Moreira Lima, Brazil will map a course to minimise its reliance on automobiles that operate only on petrol when it presents its new auto-industry strategy as early as next month. However, it won’t affect the favoured flex-fuel models.
These sugar-cane-powered vehicles are less expensive to maintain than gasoline-powered cars, which reduced Brazil’s vulnerability to oil shortages that severely damaged the economy in the 1970s. These automobiles received positive feedback from customers and developed a devoted following.
The slower EV uptake in Brazil is not unusual. Government officials, well-known sugar producers, and well-known automakers are all working hard to maintain ethanol in petrol. This support comes in a variety of forms, including a number of pro-ethanol regulations, such as lower taxes at the pump and a federal carbon credit programme that essentially rewards ethanol mills, as well as little investment in the infrastructure for charging EVs or the production of batteries.
But the Gol Flex, a car fueled by ethanol, wasn’t released by Volkswagen until 2003 when things really started to pick up. The Gol Flex made flex-fuel vehicles, which burn a mixture of ethanol and petrol, popular, and they swiftly ousted pure-gas automobiles from the market. For comparison, in June 2023, flex-fuel vehicles represented 84.5 per cent of all vehicle sales in the nation.
For socialist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, turning around would be challenging. In a country known as the greatest producer of sugar cane in the world, where agriculture accounts for almost a fourth of GDP, if fuel-flex vehicles were phased out, he would lose the enormous economic boost that ethanol generates every year.
However, as long as flex-fuel vehicles are widely available, reasonably priced, and manufactured locally, they will continue to outsell electric vehicles (EVs), which are among the cleanest in the world given that more than 80% of Brazil’s electricity originates from renewable sources including hydropower, wind, solar, and biomass. Throughout their lifetime, they are therefore cleaner than flex-fuel vehicles.
Brazil will find it tougher to keep up with the rapid advancement of EV technology the longer it puts off planning its transition to battery-powered vehicles. Transitions take time, and if the country puts off implementing the types of initiatives that other nations have found to be crucial for lowering consumer costs and promoting adoption, it risks being stranded in an outmoded system.