BY LISA GIBBS | Miami Herald
After Fidel Castro is gone, two men who’ll be on the first Miami-Havana flight are brothers Lombardo and Lomberto Perez. Their business: Selling cars.
Before the revolution, Cubans demonstrated a huge appetite for automobiles; in all of Latin America, the country was second only to Venezuela in the number of cars per person, according to Robb Report. Lombardo, owner of Metro Ford in Miami, and Lomberto, owner of Autocity of Pinecrest, both believe that hunger will return.
Over the years, study after study has attempted to evaluate potential opportunities in a democratic Cuba. Everyone realizes it’s a guessing game. Too much uncertainty, too many questions. Will the new government be stable? How bad is the economy? How long will it take to modernize?
Still, most executives in South Florida are optimistic that, eventually, investing in Cuba will pay. In the most recent survey, ordered by South Florida CEO, almost 65 percent of execs polled said they were likely to do business in post-Castro Cuba.
Like most, the Perezes’ optimism is tempered by caution. Gearing up to sell cars in Cuba will require distribution networks, dealership facilities, technology. More important, success will depend on how long it takes before economic growth gives consumers the ability to afford cars.
As dealer Carlos Planas of Tamiami Chrysler says, “If we think we’re just going to go over there and sell cars before reconstructing the economy and helping the people, we are blind. They need basic transportation like buses. Cars would be a luxury.’‘
Says Lombardo: “It will be a slow process. But after one or two years we’ll see the economy really taking off.’‘
Lomberto: ‘‘The government will be the No. 1 market in the beginning,’’ not consumer. “And there’ll be so much money flowing in, from Cuban exiles in Miami, the U.S. government, European Union, Latin America.’‘
Lombardo: “At the beginning it’s going to have to be very low priced new vehicles and used vehicles.’‘
Lomberto: “It will be interesting to see how our brands carry over into Cuba. We both have well-established brands, and I’m pretty sure the advertising we do in Miami reaches Cuba.’‘