Demand for "ecocars" soars in Switzerland

Switzerland is expected to have around 100 gas filling stations by 2007 Keystone

Sales of natural gas and hybrid cars have risen substantially in Switzerland, with waiting lists for some models stretching for months.

This content was published on March 2, 2006 - 17:00

Growing interest in so-called "ecocars" comes amid increasing concern over pollution, future energy sources and rising fuel prices.

Hybrid, electric, fuel cell, natural gas and ethanol vehicles will once again be firmly in the spotlight at the 76th Geneva International Motor Show, which opened on Thursday.

They will be presented at around 20 stands, including one dedicated solely to alternative power – EcoCar – run by Switzerland's gasmobil and e'mobile associations.

"People are thinking more and more about future energy needs. It's a theme that continues to grow here in Geneva and it's one that no one can avoid – it's too important," Henri Scheidegger, head of the motor show's secretariat, told swissinfo.

On display at the EcoCar stand will be four natural gas vehicles, two hybrids (petrol/electric) and two electric cars. All are available in Switzerland and are selling faster than manufacturers can deliver them.

e'mobile, the Swiss Association for Electric and Efficient Vehicles, says the waiting list for one of the hybrid models – the Toyota Prius II – currently stands at around five months.

Long wait

Hybrid cars are powered by a combination of fuel and electricity, which manufacturers say leads to lower emissions and makes them more economical to run.

There are now around 2,500 hybrid cars registered in Switzerland – up from around 1,000 at the end of 2004.

"Last year more than 1,400 hybrid cars were registered. Manufacturers could have sold many more but they have long waiting lists," Susanne Wegmann, director of e'mobile, told swissinfo.

According to e'mobile, Switzerland is usually among the first countries in Europe to latch on to new technologies in the car sector but suffers because it is such a small market.

Wegmann says that of the 1,500 Toyota Prius I sold in Europe, Swiss motorists snapped up a third.

The Japanese car manufacturer will be presenting two other hybrids in Geneva: the Lexus RX 400h (275 sold in Switzerland since June) and the Lexus GS 450h, which is expected to go on sale later this year.

Switzerland will also be one of the first European countries to get Saab's new ethanol-powered car, which is being shown for the first time outside Sweden at the Geneva Motor Show.

Gas power

Similar growth has been witnessed in the natural gas-powered sector. Around 2,000 of these vehicles ply Swiss roads – up from 1,250 in 2004.

While this is small potatoes compared with Italy's 400,000 gas-powered cars, the association is confident of persuading more Swiss to go for gas, which it says is 40 per cent cheaper than petrol.

"Italy began developing this market a lot earlier than Switzerland and the price of natural gas there is around 50-60 per cent cheaper," gasmobil marketing director Serge Savary told swissinfo.

"The Italian mentality is also different. They just want to get from A to B as cheaply as possible and the model is secondary. Swiss consumers want everything: a cheap price, a powerful engine, space, and we need to change that."

Filling stations

Savary says high fuel prices and rising air pollution levels are persuading more and more motorists to think about switching to cheaper, cleaner fuels.

He added that gas-powered cars were likely to become more attractive from mid-2007, when the government is expected to lower tax on the fuel.

There has been criticism over a lack of filling stations, but gasmobil says there are more than enough to enable motorists to traverse the country without running out of gas.

The association points out that Switzerland is now home to 60 filling stations and the network is set to expand to 100 by next year.

Savary added that crash tests by motoring organisations in Switzerland and Germany had shown that gas tanks were actually safer than their petrol and diesel counterparts.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

Alternative powered vehicles, sports cars and prototypes are some of the key attractions at this year's Geneva International Motor Show.

Rolf Studer, general director of the show, says more space has been allotted this year to cars powered by alternative energy sources.

Moritz Leuenberger, Swiss minister for the environment, transport, energy and communications, opened the event.

A special exhibition will be dedicated to the Swiss "Revue Automobile" magazine, which is celebrating its centenary.

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Key facts

The 76th Geneva International Motor Show runs from March 2-12.
Around 260 exhibitors are expected from some 30 countries.
Organisers say there will be more than 140 world premieres.
New Porsche and Ferrari models are set to be unveiled alongside around 20 concept cars.

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