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Swiss strategy What does the future hold for electric vehicles?

Chinese boy in a blue car

China Is leading the world towards an electric car future

(Robyn Beck / AFP)

Switzerland has a new strategy to promote greater use of electric vehicles, but the Alpine nation remains far behind leading electric mobility pioneers such as Norway. The Swiss plan comes amid questions about how environmentally friendly electric cars really are. 

Sales of electric cars in Switzerland increased by 40% in 2017, compared to the previous year. But the 4,929 electric vehicles sold only represented 1.6% of total vehicle sales, according to the Federal Statistical Officeexternal link.

Graphic on passenger cars sales in Switzerland
(swissinfo.ch)

This compared to Norway, where 20.8% of cars sold that year were electric. By 2025, only electric or hybrid vehicles will be allowed on Norwegian roads. 

But Switzerland has new ambitions when it comes to electric vehicles. Last December, the Swiss Federal Energy Office published its “Roadmap for electric mobility 2022external link”, a strategy document which contains plans to increase the share of rechargeable tourism vehicles (electric and hybrid) on Swiss roads to 15%. 

Electric vehicles will thus become an “integral part of road traffic in Switzerland” by 2022, the document says. The roadmap was drawn up by over 50 organisations and firms from different sectors, as well as federal, cantonal and communal officials. 

Scarce service stations 

One of the main challenges for the expansion of e-mobility in Switzerland is the limited network of electric service stations, whose scarcity prevents such vehicles from travelling long distances. The federal authorities therefore want to build 160 high-speed recharging points along main roads. They also say electric cars should no longer be classed as higher-weight vehicles due to their heavy batteries. 

In general, the authorities say they want to change people’s view on electric cars and “create positive feelings” about e-mobility. 

Behind China 

Other countries, such as China, are already much further down this road. In view of the serious pollution problems in Chinese towns and cities, the country wants to discourage new car purchases; new vehicle number plates are only distributed in a lottery system. In 2013, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that a Beijing driver had to wait 72 months to get vehicle plates. The situation is much worse today, according to swissinfo.ch’s Chinese journalists. 

But China wants to spur demand for alternative-energy cars. This year it plans to further reduce electric-vehicle subsidies on electric cars and push automakers to innovate rather than rely on fiscal policy, Bloomberg reports. 

Electric cars developments are moving ahead at speed. From 2019, Volvo – owned by the Chinese group Geely – plans to produce only electric or hybrid vehicles. And this week, the American electric car manufacturer Tesla opened a huge factory in China. 

Europe is losing pace. Several electric car models are in the pipeline, but “it won’t be before 2021, when Volkswagen makes its big offensive into e-mobility, that the German group manages to dethrone Tesla in Europe”, Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a German economist and transport expert at Duisburg-Essen University told the Handelszeitung newspaper. 

Environmental impact 

Meanwhile, a growing number of specialists are casting doubt on the environmental benefits of battery-powered vehicles. The NZZ am Sonntag newspaper recently wrote that making new batteries causes more environmental damage than the manufacture of combustion engine cars. It said a study commissioned by the Swedish Energy Agency showed that a small electric car becomes more energy efficient than a regular petrol or diesel car after 30,000 kilometres (18,641 miles), while a bigger electric car only does so only after 100,000 kilometres. 

The ecological impact of manufacturing car batteries is also overlooked, argue some experts. Battery production requires rare minerals and damages the environment. The NZZ said plans to dispose of millions of used electric car batteries were “as vague as the questions surrounding nuclear waste when the first nuclear power stations were built”.


Translated from German by Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch

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