An economic crash has driven nearly half of Lebanon’s six million people into poverty.
A Lebanon-made electric car has made its debut, the first time the Mediterranean country has manufactured an automobile, despite struggling amid a dire economic crisis with frequent power cuts.
The red sports car – named “Quds Rise”, using the Arabic name of Jerusalem – is the project of Lebanese-born Palestinian businessman Jihad Mohammad.
It’s the “first automobile to be made locally,” Mohammad told reporters on Saturday, at the unveiling in a parking lot south of Beirut.
It was built in Lebanon “from start to finish”, he said of the prototype, emblazoned at the front with a golden logo of the Dome of the Rock, the shrine in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site.
The car is to cost $30,000.
Production of up to 10,000 vehicles is hoped to start later this year in Lebanon, with cars to hit the market in a year’s time, said Mohammad, the director of Lebanon-based firm EV Electra.
Mohammad, 50, said he set up the company four years ago after years abroad, employing Lebanese and Palestinian engineers among 300 members of staff.
He says his long-term goal is to compete on the international market for hybrid and electric cars, as well as to make sales in Lebanon.
But the unveiling comes as Lebanon struggles amid its worst economic crisis in decades, and imported car sales are at a record low, in part due to capital controls and drastic devaluation on the black market.
Dealers sold just 62 new cars in the first two months of 2021, almost 97 percent less than the same period a year before, figures released by the Association of Automobile Importers in Lebanon showed.
The economic crunch since late 2019 has plunged more than half the population into poverty.
But Mohammad said potential Lebanese buyers would be offered the opportunity to pay for half the new electric car in dollars, with the rest paid in Lebanese pounds at an exchange rate better than the black market one, to be paid over five years without interest.
Lebanon also relies on fossil fuels for power generation, already insufficient for a population of around six million who suffer daily power cuts.
To power its new electric cars, the firm plans to set up around 100 recharging stations across the country connected to generators.
These could then be fuelled by solar and wind power generation, Mohammad said.
Independent energy analyst Jessica Obeid welcomed the innovation, but said the vehicles would only be environmentally friendly if the power sector underwent serious reform.
“The energy sector is the biggest contributor to Lebanon’s greenhouse gas emissions,” and already under pressure due to a shortage in dollars to import fuel, she told AFP news agency.
But, she added, “if the electric vehicles have solar charging stations, then this would be a step in the right direction”.