Cuba’s famous old cars can find their way on the island.

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Cuba’s famous old cars can find their way on the island.

Each person in Cuba may have more years of American cars than anywhere else in the world. This is unnecessary, not optional. As the United States and Cuba restore relations, the parts of these cars should be more readily available.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

On the streets of Cuba, you’ll see a lot of classic American cars – think ford Fairlanes, Studebakers, Chevy Bel Airs, etc. – that’s unnecessary, not optional. But as NPR’s Sonari Glinton reports, improving relations between the United States and Cuba could lead to more new models.

SONARI GLINTON, wired: this comparison helps me understand the Cuban car market that we all need to know about. The average age of cars on American roads is 11.4, but because of the Cuban embargo, it is more like 60 – or even 65.

BILL VISNIC: you have some Galapagos in the car market. Nothing has happened in 50 years.

GLINTON: Bill Visnic and edmunds.com say that, like the Galapagos, animals have evolved in isolation, as has the Cuban car market. Visnic says the Cuban car market is about to develop in the future, and a lot of things have to happen.

VISNIC: everything is a problem, so you have to build imports, distribution, sales, all of which have to start from scratch.

Greenton: alex gutierrez and kelly blue book say it’s too early for car enthusiasts or executives to start laughing at the potential of the Cuban car market.

ALEC GUTIERREZ: as a professional in the auto industry, for Cuba, I really have more problems than I do now.

GLINTON: he has a long list of questions.

GUTIERREZ: what does the car crowd look like outside? What is the status of these vehicles? What are the needs of the average Cuban family? What is the market potential of only 11 million people in Cuba? Are they interested in new cars? Can they afford a new car? Is this the second-hand car market?

GLINTON: ok. That was the 18 seconds of gutierrez’s three-minute question. Now, the soviets, the Chinese, have offered some new cars to Cuba. In the next few years, the likelihood of new car markets opening up is almost nil, says Larry Dominique.

Larry Dominic: because there’s no infrastructure for a new car, right? No new car dealers. There is no maintenance. There are very few gas stations. So I think infrastructure is going to take years to support a fairly strong market. But, of course, if the market is open, then good used car exports are a good opportunity.

KARL BRAUER: yes, cubans will have a bigger market for used cars because they are cheaper, and of course there is now a market for replacement parts.

Greenton: kelly brauer and kelly blue book say that the first thing that might go to Cuba is the urgent need for replacement parts. Cuban machinists and owners have been making their own parts with engineering technology. Carl brauer is also an old car. He says a whole island full of old cars might be a boon to collectors, but…

Brewer: the downside is that it’s going to be a good car. It won’t be any kind of museum quality. As they say, the quality of the driver is no worse than the quality of the driver, because in the past few decades it has to be a real car.

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