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Exclusive: Container ships full of used Wartburgs seen headed for Venezuela

Ahhhhh, the Wartburg! East Germany's answer to the mass movement problem made famous by U2 waaaay back when. Well it looks like the concept of the car (though not the car itself, thank the stars) is about to make a comeback.

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (you might have heard the name before) yesterday announced his grand plan to rid his country of gas guzzlers. According to the H-man, starting next year all you need to do is drive down to your local gov't building in your enormous Dodge-shaped jalopy and swap it for "a new and modern" car that is powered by liquid gas (GLP or LPG, depending on which country you're in while reading this). As an added bonus, the Venezuelan gov't will even throw in a year's worth of fuel for free (according to Chávez yesterday, at least).

The concept of running vehicles on LPG is a good one; go to Argentina and get in a taxi, and it's an 80% chance you're moved along by a liquid gas fuelled engine. It's clean fuel, and one thing that's certain is Venezuela is about to get itself a large supply of the stuff from the new gas fields currently being spudded (for example the enormous Mariscal offshore field North-ish of Caracas and the Cardon blocks just off the coast near Maracaibo). And less petroleum used by Venezuelans at 12c a gallon means more petroleum sold to the world at $100/bbl...the economics make sense, too.

Chávez on TV yesterday sketching out his vision for the future of Venezuela

You gotta scratch your chin a bit and think about the timing, the announcement coming just before the big local elections of November, but so be it. Also, what kind of car (if not a Wartburg)? An LPG powered vehicle has to have an engine of a certain size because power delivery is lower than for normal fuel, so the Tata Nano is not an option. Is the Chávezmobile only available in red? Lots of incognitos at the moment and this story could become a lot of fun to follow. But one thing is sure; the rabid anti-Chávez brigade will try their hardest to ridicule this one, but they'll have nothing as attractive as the phrase "free car" in their arsenal of words.