Maintenance was a reason embassy purchased Japanese car

The U.S. Embassy here purchased an electric car assembled in Japan instead of a U.S. product because officials said they doubted that an American vehicle could be serviced adequately here.

An embassy spokesman gave that explanation at the request of A.M. Costa Rica, which reported last week that the embassy has purchased a fully electric Mitsubishi MIEV to add to its fleet. The initial report of the purchase was posted to the embassy Web site.

Unlike expats, the U.S. Embassy does not have to pay taxes on the vehicle import because of its diplomatic status.

Some U.S. expats were unhappy with the purchase. One, Garry Wiersum of Ciudad Colón, wrote a letter to the editor saying “Is the U.S. Embassy so far removed that they haven’t heard that U.S. auto manufacturers are building very competitive electric cars. Come on. This is really ridiculous.”

That was one of several similar comments.

“While U.S. government procurement rules specify that preference be given to U.S.-built vehicles, purchasing one was not possible in this case,” said Eric Turner, information officer for the U.S. Embassy, in an email. “Even if we could import the Leaf and Volt, they were not
practical choices because they could not be reliably serviced here in Costa Rica.”

The embassy plans on installing a charging station for the car that will be used by the embassy’s customs and shipping staff, Turner said.

“We will actually use this car more often than the vehicle it is replacing because of its lower operating costs,” said Turner. “While realizing that fuel costs vary over time, the embassy estimates that at current prices, the reduced operated costs of the electric vehicle will pay back the increased purchase price of the electric car within five or six years, at which time additional savings will accrue. Generally, we keep vehicles about eight years before we sell them at a local auction with proceeds going back to the U.S. treasury.”

The car cost $43,000, said Turner. The embassy reported the car was assembled in Japan, and the import fees were included upon purchase in Costa Rica at Vehiculos Internacionales, S.A.

According to the embassy Web site, the MIEV can travel at speeds up to 90 kph (56 mph) and has a range of about 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) per charge. The embassy plans on installing a charging station.

One reader noted that the vehicle might have trouble with hills in Costa Rica and that it would need a charge to reach the southern Pacific coast.

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