The success of the Geneva Motor Show is often attributed to the fact that Switzerland does not have a car manufacturing industry. But Swiss know-how makes a significant contribution to the motor industry.This content was published on March 2, 2001 - 12:03
Visitors to the Motor Show, which runs until March 11 at the Palexpo exhibition centre, come to marvel at the high-tech concept cars and technical innovations developed by German, Italian and Japanese firms. But what they are almost certainly unaware of is that these are often produced with Swiss help.
Some 120 Swiss companies, employing around 16,000 people, supply foreign car manufacturers with everything from microchips to sheet metal. They generate revenues totalling around SFr5 billion ($3.3 billion).
For example, the Domat-based chemicals group, EMS-Chemie, provides adhesives, the telecommunications firm, Ascom, makes elements for electric motors, while the Zurich semiconductor concern, Micronas, supplies sensors.
Other well known Swiss firms are also involved: Alusuisse is an important producer of aluminium for body work; Saurer, normally associated with machines for the textile industry, also provides specialised equipment for the auto sector; Oerlikon Varta makes starters and batteries; and von Roll produces components of circuit boards.
Among the most sought-after Swiss products are microchips, produced by the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology in Neuchatel. Indeed the centre has become world leader in this field.
This technology, which fits billions of connections into a chip the size of a fingernail, is used in air bags and on-board computers which inform the driver of technical faults.
The relationship between Switzerland and the car industry is a two-way process. The country not only supplies its know-how, it is also an important market.
The car-related economy generates around SFr70 billion a year. This includes SFr10.3 billion from the sale of new cars, SFr17.5 billion from garage repairs and the sale of second-hand vehicles, SFr8 billion from petrol stations and SFr3.5 billion in insurance.
Despite their environmentally friendly reputation, the Swiss have a close relationship with their cars. There are a staggering 3.5 million privately owned cars on Swiss roads - one for every two inhabitants.
by Roy Probert
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