The nascent brand has sold its first 100 compact electric vehicles, and is helping to lay the groundwork for the EV industry in Mexico, says CEO Nazareth Black
Zacua, Mexico’s first electric car brand, started in 2017, over twenty years since the idea first struck its founder, Jorge Martínez. As director of one of the country’s biggest car parking businesses, Martínez knew first-hand just how many petrol vehicles were on the country’s roads, and understood that the world of motoring had to change.
Martínez envisioned the first Mexican-built electric car, teaming up with electrical and mechanical engineers and naming the company Zacua, after the favourite bird of sixteenth-century emperor Moctezuma II. In 2018, it opened its first production plant, in the state of Puebla.
Zacua’s first test vehicles were delivered that same year, and its team have since been perfecting the models. But the project has not been free of obstacles: in an ever more crowded market, competing against established international brands with longer histories – and deeper pockets – Zacua has had to make a name for itself from scratch. In Mexico, however, the company has built a community of users that has supported the project at every step, testing and helping to improve its vehicles.
Zacua currently has two models on the production line – the MX2 and MX3 – both starting at 599,000 Mexican pesos (US$30,500), with the company also offering subsidies of around US$2,500 to cover part of the cost for its users. Its compact cars are pitched as urban vehicles, with a range of 160 km and batteries claimed to be capable of 3,000 full-charge cycles, translating into an estimated eight-year life.
In recent years, Latin America has seen moderate growth in its electric vehicle market, with over 10,700 EVs estimated to be on the roads in 2020. Many countries in the region have introduced incentives for electric vehicles, such as exemptions or discounts on sales, environmental and import taxes. And beyond Mexico, manufacturers in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina have also begun to develop their own domestically built electric vehicles. However, the high price of electric cars is still a barrier for the majority of Latin American consumers – and for their local producers, many of whom have so far seen more losses than profit.
Nevertheless, Zacua has found a positive reception. Earlier this year, the country’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, arrived in a Zacua for the launch of a Mexico-United States Electric Vehicle Working Group in California, in a clear show of support for the Mexican brand. As interest in the company’s work builds, Diálogo Chino spoke with Nazareth Black, Zacua’s CEO, to hear more about its origins and projections.
Diálogo Chino: What is Zacua for you?
Nazareth Black: More than a brand, Zacua is a state of mind: all of us need to travel, but when you get into a Zacua, you get into a very positive state of mind, saying “I am travelling and I am no longer polluting”. The aim is to reduce the impact on the earth and leave a better world for those who come. But we as a species are killing ourselves with the cars we choose to use: we are choosing the weapon that is killing us.
All these actions that we can take, we are taking to increase our chances of survival and of those to come, to be able to survive in an environment of the highest possible quality. Zacua is also the name of a bird – it was the favourite of Emperor Moctezuma, who is important to Mexico’s history. As a Mexican project, we seek to promote our country to the world, and this gives us the opportunity to start conversations about our history.
DC: What was the process of developing the technology like?
NB: The car’s electronics were developed in-house, at the plant with our engineers. So we have technological independence – that is, we own that technology. And that strikes me as an extraordinary achievement. It is our first attempt, being a small and emerging company.
Within the community, within an international industry experiencing [a shift to] Industry 4.0, we are a star, and many countries have come to learn about the project. We have that recognition. They ask us: “How did they do it?” Obviously we know that we have to improve on so many things, but our whole life is [dedicated to] constantly improving. In the internal team we have mechanics, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers. Even me, we all ended up teaming up to pull this off.
How was were the first cars to hit the streets received?
At the beginning, we had the support of family and friends. Because at the beginning, who is going to buy you? Your cousin, your best friend, your husband who says “I’m going with you” – because we are not a brand that has a history. There is no background, where they say, for example, “a Toyota works like this”. We are very aware that we do not have that.
The first ones knew that they were coming to “work with us”, rather than simply buying a car. We had gotten it out of the dream stage, so then it’s onto “go and try it, and tell me if it moves and works as we think”. Others came along, saying “I want one”, but we had to tell them, the first round is just family and friends. Then several other people said they wanted to become a test pilot. And like this, we reached 50 [testers].
What problems have you encountered and what has been changing?
At first, little things appeared, but no mechanical issues. What mattered most to me was that the car didn’t get left behind. In that regard, it has been very good, and we have been improving things. Now it is more like an experimentation workshop. Someone had the idea of developing a screen from which to manage the whole car, it’s totally touch screen-based. That is new.
When we started, we brought in the transmission systems from outside. Now, we make them at the plant. We want all the parts to be Mexican. That is what we have been doing over the years: working on supply issues. And working with those who have our cars on the move. It has been three and a half years since they began to be delivered, and so far we have not had a crash, or even a flat tyre. We are also in the process of building a database of information, working out the things we have and things we don’t.
And how about the economics?
No one who is selling electric cars makes any money. Currently it is not profitable. It will probably be at some point, but all of us here at Zacua, firstly, do not live from this and, secondly, we are not expecting it to be a quick business – nor are we expecting to make money. We are not the exception.
It is a family business, belonging to a group of companies. At the moment, we are raising capital – that’s how all businesses are, for new businesses you have to invest. Everything is more expensive for us than a global brand. If I buy 50 steering wheels, for example, Ford buys 5 million. Who will get it cheaper? For us, currently, everything is more expensive. That is why we are practically profitless.
What’s next for Zacua?
We are currently working on other prototypes: utility vehicles for home deliveries, and goods vehicles. Also, many foreign companies are coming to work in Mexico as it is cheap to assemble here. So there is a wave of suppliers and car brands realising it is convenient to assemble here and then enter North American markets. So why don’t we make a platform to serve them? Either we see them as competition or we collaborate and capitalise on this. We already have a structure in place: we have an assembly service, we provide assembly for other cars. We can offer more certainty, and confidence for those who need our services.