What’s missing in Mexico’s EV strategy?


Zero-emission vehicles

The electrification of transport is underway on all continents, but it is not advancing at the same pace in all markets. Mexico, a laggard in transport electrification, now shows signs of awakening to the challenge. After years of implementing lax fuel economy regulations for light-duty vehicles (LDVs) and eliminating import taxes on EVs only temporarily, pro-EV government action has suddenly picked up:

  • In April, the government recognized lithium as a strategic mineral and announced that its value chain would be managed exclusively by a new public entity.
  • On June 17th, President López Obrador announced that 50% of vehicles produced in 2030 will be zero-emission (ZEV).
  • Multi-stakeholder working groups led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economy are examining an electrification roadmap.
  • High-level discussions between the U.S. and Mexico are taking place in multiple international fora to coordinate climate change efforts and to promote regional supply chains for EVs.

These are all strong steps in the right direction, but they need better articulation. In addition, Mexico’s strategy requires long-term binding targets, and an enabling regulatory framework.

Markets leading the transition to ZEVs have often used five policies to accelerate adoption of ZEVs: 1) phase-out targets, 2) ZEV regulations and CO2 standards, 3) fiscal incentives, 4) charging and refueling infrastructure, and 5) consumer awareness and fleet purchase requirements.

Through the lens of these policies, opportunities for Mexico to increase efforts to accelerate the transition to EVs become evident. Here are areas in which Mexico needs to step up its game:

  1. Phase-out targets. Mexico has not yet adopted phase-out targets for internal combustion engines (ICE) in general. While Mexico is a signatory to the COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero-emission car and van sales by 2040, the declaration is non-binding. Moreover, the latest proposal of the National Electromobility Strategy developed by the Ministry of Environment (SEMARNAT) takes a position inconsistent with the COP26 declaration, setting a goal of only 50% of new sales of electric and plug-in hybrid LDVs and buses in the same timeframe.
  2. Regulations. Fuel economy standards for LDVs were implemented from 2014 through 2018. A delayed second phase will be published in 2022 by SEMARNAT, but the latest proposal is not an EV-forcing standard. It contains excessive credits or flexibilities for automakers, which can cut expected reductions in CO2 by 30%.[1]

Without EV-forcing standards, it’d be difficult to increase the national ZEV LDV sales share from the current 0.33%. The declared goal of producing 50% of the LDV fleet as ZEVs by 2030 will not necessarily boost domestic sales of EVs. Instead, the status quo could continue: the most efficient and clean vehicles would be produced in Mexico but not sold there. Keep in mind that Mexico is the 4th largest vehicle exporter in the world, with 80% of domestic production destined for the North American market.

With regard to heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs), despite progress in Latin America—Chile and Brazil have adopted HDV efficiency standards—Mexico shows no signs of following that path.

  1. Fiscal incentives. A temporary import tax exemption for electric vehicles has been granted until 2024. ZEVs are also exempt from the tax for new vehicles (ISAN). Other local incentives for ZEVs, like those offered in central states such as Mexico City, are the exemption from inspection and maintenance programs (verificación) and from registration taxes (tenencia). A more comprehensive fiscal incentives framework must be adopted at national and local levels to reduce the cost difference between zero-emission and internal combustion technologies until cost parity is reached, to encourage the early adoption of zero-emission technologies. This should all happen in an equitable and just manner.
  2. Infrastructure. Mexico has around 2100 EV chargers installed throughout the country. Charging infrastructure must grow at the same pace as electric vehicle offerings; otherwise, consumers may lack the confidence needed to purchase ZEVs. This requires attention to the number and location of public, private, and depot chargers; increased grid power output; a review of electricity tariffs; and standardization and interoperability of charging networks. Local deployments of electric buses, urban truck fleets, and ride-sharing services are drawing attention to the need for reliable and extensive infrastructure.
  3. Consumer awareness and fleet purchase requirements. Some local governments are incorporating demand-side policies to advance EV adoption. For example, the Mexico City BRT system, Metrobus, has committed to fully electrifying one route and is planning the electrification of the entire system. Despite this and other deployments of electric models in local bus fleets in cities like Guadalajara and Monterrey, no mandatory requirements have been enacted.

Colombia adopted the first vehicle purchase mandate in Latin America, establishing by law progressive electric bus purchase requirements starting in 2025 at 10% and reaching 100% ZEVs by 2035. Purchase mandates for bus operators and government fleets help to accelerate heavy-duty ZEV adoption in the short term. Low- and zero-emission zones are another type of policy that can support fleet transformation; Mexico City has committed to implementing a low-emission zone by 2024.

With adopted and proposed policies and targets in North America to accelerate the deployment of ZEVs, Mexico can step up and work toward a regional decarbonization economy and even explore new domestic opportunities like the manufacturing of batteries and other EV components. Domestic and export markets should both be transformed.

But the first piece of an effective EV strategy is missing: phase-out targets for all vehicle segments. Mexico needs to send a clear signal of its ambition and pace to transform the transport sector, considering its climate goals and international commitments.

Countries like Chile can be a role model for Mexico. Chile published its National Electromobility Strategy in October 2021, which includes ZEV sales targets for all types of on- and off-road vehicles starting with the phase-out of ICE sales of urban buses and of light- and medium-duty vehicles by 2035.

It’s Mexico’s turn to catch up and join the challenge. More information on ZEV adoption scenarios and recommendations for Mexico under the ZEV Transition Council, which Mexico is part of, will follow in future blogs.