Today we spent a day in the city of Medellin, 1,500m above sea level and nestled in a sub-tropical valley. In fact, due to its elevation, Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” as it’s always warm but never too hot, hence the sub-tropical nature of the vegetation. Upon waking up and looking out of the hotel window located high on the hillside, one can get an idea of the scale of the city. At 2.5 million inhabitants, this city ranks as the second most populous in Colombia, and this fact is very evident when you see the city stretch off in both directions down the narrow valley.
After a quick breakfast, we headed off to the EAFIT university where our car had charged overnight. Well, it was supposed to have charged overnight, but yet another mischievous circuit breaker had decided to try and cause us trouble. Fortunately however, we weren’t going to be driving anywhere today as we were spending the day at the university. All the car needed to do was to drive around the campus and look pretty, and despite its long drive yesterday, it had plenty enough juice to do that!
Firstly, we brought the car out of the university’s smart workshop, and drove it round to the centre of the campus to allow the press to do interviews and for anyone interested from the university to ask questions about the car. KPMG also turned up and, as always, the team thoroughly enjoyed talking to everyone about the project. Some people ask if we ever get tired of answering the same questions day in and day out…the answer is a categoric no! The whole point of the project is to get our message out there to as many people as possible, and if they care enough to ask, we are delighted to answer!
This chatting and media session lasted until lunchtime whereby we headed off for a delicious local meal with Juan Fernando and others from the university. This was very enjoyable, and was followed up by a presentation made to staff and students about the project and trip so far. It was very well received, and it was clear that the university felt there was a big similarity between what we’re doing and what they’re doing. How similar our situations actually are was about to come clearer a little later on.
Meanwhile, while myself, Andy and Toby were presenting, Nik was getting his hands dirty in the workshop making a new radiator fan mount for some new fans. The reason for this is that way back when we were building the car, we were sponsored some exceptionally good fans from EBMPapst; a leader in fan technology. However, the lead time was very long, and we had to substitute them for some cheap computer fans until we managed to get the new fans shipped out to us while we were on the trip. These cheap ones actually worked extremely well, from the gravel roads of Alaska all the way to the jungles of Colombia. However, they were really struggling to sufficiently cool the radiator on our steep drive up the Andes, so we swapped them for these uber-fans, and tomorrow will be the real test as we make our way up to Bogota, which includes a climb of nearly 2km!
Anyway, after the presentation and a short break in which to grab some drinks and catch up on some emails, we were invited on a tour of the engineering facility. Set inside a large, open and very attractive campus, the engineering building stood slightly separate from the rest. The building itself was absolutely stunning; modern, well built and extremely well laid out. Upon entering the workshop on the ground floor though, we really had our breath taken away. The facilities were absolutely incredible, with literally millions of dollars of high tech machinery on the shop floor, and topped off with state of the art computer, design and prototyping facilities.
The whole tour, served to make one thing abundantly clear; Colombia, and Latin America as a whole, are really on the rise! If the developed countries want to maintain their competitive advantage, they had better start investing in a very big way in engineering and technology education, because a glance at some of the projects that these students are doing, and a glimpse into the automotive research group’s activities showed that this part of the world is rapidly improving its technology and creative capabilities. All I can say is watch out, these guys are getting themselves very well organised!
Next up we were given a presentation by the head of the design engineering course, and leader of the automotive research group. What was instantly clear was the passion and desire they have for not merely importing electric vehicles into Colombia, but designing them and building them here as well. In the exact same way us as, they are exceptionally keen to help change the public’s perception of electric vehicles because here, in a city with a high level of air pollution and very low electricity costs, electric vehicles make so much sense. In addition, they recognise the necessity of inspiring people to do something about these challenges, and so the students at EAFIT are really encouraged to come up with creative automotive solutions.
When the university started the automotive project in 2003, they had a lot of detractors saying that Colombia had never been involved in the manufacturing of vehicles, and hence shouldn’t start doing so now. Yet they pushed on with a drive rarely seen in large institutions, and they succeeded in developing a whole series of really novel vehicles which they showed us. I really take my hats off to these guys, and I admire them for what they are doing.
The end of the presentation signalled the end of a very enjoyable day, and after putting the car back on charge (this time with a different circuit breaker!) we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower followed by a delicious meal with some of the university students.
Once again I must reiterate how impressed we were with this university and with what they are doing in the field of electric vehicles. I really wish them the best of luck with their endeavours, and it is my sincere hope that we can work with them in some capacity in the future. I strongly feel that they represent a new type of Latin America which has so much potential to fulfil…best of luck guys, and thanks a ton for hosting us!