Already accounting for 6.2% of total GDP, Colombia’s automobile industry is now the fourth largest in Latin America. Having produced nearly half a million units in the last five years alone, the country went from exporting merely 12,000 automobiles a year to two countries to sending 46,000 to 13 countries across Latin America in 2019, according to the Chamber of Automotive Industries, contributing an additional USD560 million to national GDP in 2019 alone.
With 94% of all vehicles sold in Colombia also produced locally, the country should see an increase in production of nearly 10% between 2018 and 2022, according to ProColombia. With each vehicle generating 14 separate taxes and the total industry providing 25,000 direct jobs and another 100,000 indirect ones at the country’s two major plants in Bogotá and Antioquia, the automobile sector is rapidly becoming one of the country’s most important. However, the sector is no stranger to the local industrial scene. First established in 1957 at Bogotá’s Fábrica Colombiana de Automotores, Colombia produced British-brand Austin trucks and campers for 15 years before branching out into making Dodge and Simcas for the Chrysler group. Bought out by General Motors in 1982 and renamed GM Colmotores, the country’s largest automobile plant has been producing Chevrolets for the Colombian and now regional market since 1982.
Now producing 47 vehicles on 12 platforms, Chevrolet has been the best-selling automobile brand in Colombia for 29 consecutive years—exporting more than 13,000 Chevrolets from its Bogotá plant to neighboring countries in 2018 alone. Not foolish enough to rest upon these laurels, however, Chevrolet is now exploring manufacturing its leading electrical car, the Chevy Bolt, at Colmotores, too.
At Colombia’s second-largest plant at Envigado, just south of Medellín in the heavily industrialized province of Antioquia, Colombians have been hard at work since 1971, producing Renaults and other leading European and Japanese brands. In addition to producing many of the French carmaker’s most successful labels, Envigado also produces Toyota, Daihatsu, and Hino trucks, not to mention three hugely popular models of Dacia, Renault’s Romanian subsidiary: Logans, Sanderos, and Dusters.
In 2018, the Envigado plant produced more than 75,000 vehicles, 18,000 of which were exported to Mexico, Brazil, and Chile, three of Latin America’s four largest markets. Like Colmotores, it is also exploring the electric car market, with emphasis on eventually producing Renault’s cutting-edge Twizy and Zoé models. Taken together, it should come as no surprise that Chevrolet and Renault have been the best-selling models since the early 1980s.
Though roughly half as many automobiles as motorcycles are registered and sold each year in Colombia, according to the Asociación Nacional de Movilidad Sostenible (Andemos), the domestic market has great room for growth. With only 121 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, Colombia’s average falls considerably below other middle-to-upper-middle income countries in the region. In Argentina, for example, it stands at 330 per 1,000 inhabitants and in Chile at 274. One can only imagine the kind of splash Colmotores and Envigado will make once they roll out their far more sustainable electric models.
Though still small compared to Mexico or Brazil, its exports are also showing marked growth in an industrial sector that doesn’t always shine. Increasing from 30,000 exports in 2017 to 43,000 in 2018, exports from Colombia’s two factories showed 43% growth that year alone. The sector’s trickle-down effects are also huge, helping boost the local banking and insurance sectors, in addition to car parts, toll collections, and other traditional sources of automobile-related revenue, according to the Ministry of Housing and Territory. Now, if they could only start fixing and building new roads, perhaps there wouldn’t be so much traffic in Bogotá.