A team of students aim to test Swiss driving habits after developing an innovative electric-powered car that could hit the streets within 18 months.
The e'mo car aims to tap into the growing demand for ecological vehicles and the ongoing fad for trendy gadgets. It is hoped that car owners will snap it up as a second, run-a-round vehicle for short daily trips.
The project leader, professor Markus Henne at the Technical University of Rapperswil, told swissinfo that he was inspired to design such a car by watching a series of solar powered vehicle races in Switzerland in the 1980s.
Not content with producing a car powered solely by an electric battery, Henne recruited a Swiss company more associated with furniture and jewellery, StauffacherBenz, to design the look of the car.
"The idea was to produce a vehicle that was something between a car and a motorcycle," Henne told swissinfo. "It needed to be a very minimalist design, a small urban car for daily use to the shops, the airport or the golf course."
"Car designers tend to think of curved lines for the chassis and I wanted something straight to reflect its simplicity. I had a totally different concept in mind."
The three-seater car, which has no doors and is made of lightweight materials, is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery that gives it a range of about 100 kilometres.
Henne has received interest from an (unnamed) car manufacturer to produce the vehicle for the Swiss market for a price of about SFr15,000 ($13,000).
The battery would only cost about a franc to recharge, but would cost an extra SFr10,000 and need replacing after 2,000 charges. To counter this disadvantage, Henne plans to lease the batteries rather than sell them.
The next stage for e'mo - short for electric motion - is to find SFr2 million in financing to market the car and research ways of making it more cost-effective to manufacture on a small scale.
Swiss drivers are notorious for driving big, gas guzzling cars, but Henne believes there is still a niche market for e'mo. He said he received good feedback after exhibiting the car at the Geneva motor show earlier this year.
"I can't change the mindset of Swiss drivers so we would not market it on the green ticket. We tried to make it more of a sexy high-tech gadget that we hope people will adopt as a second car," he said.
There are some 12,000 hybrid cars on Swiss roads at present and 7,000 natural-gas powered vehicles, but only a handful of electric cars, according to the Swiss Association for Electric and Efficient Vehicles.
But this could change, according to spokesman Wilfried Blum. "Electric cars have been around since the early 1990s, but batteries are getting much more efficient, oil prices are rising, there is a growing network of public service points [to power batteries] in Switzerland," he told swissinfo. "Interest is growing considerably."
Has the future arrived?
Jörg Beckmann, from the transport think-tank Mobility Academy, also believes that the recently improved technology of electric cars, combined with greater ecological awareness among consumers, will now make them more desirable.
"People are used to the possibility of travelling 500 kilometres or more on one tank, but the best batteries now cover 99 per cent of all car trips," he told swissinfo.
"People have been saying for a while that the future of car travel would be electric, but the future has not happened so far. However, there is a much better chance now."
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich
The e'mo car - short for electric mobility - is a compact car measuring 2.7 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and 1.5 metres high. It weighs 325kgs.
It is powered by a rechargeable 200-240 volt lithium battery.
The car can run 100kms on one battery load which takes six hours to recharge.
It has a maximum speed of 80km/h and an energy consumption of 4kwh/100kms.
The target selling price is SFr15,000 for the car. The SFr10,000 battery could be leased.
Green cars in Switzerland
e'mo is not the first ecologically-friendly car to be designed in Switzerland.
Last year, Swiss entrepreneur Nicolas Hayek – Swatch group chairman – announced the Belenos Clean Power project which aims produce the next generation of hydrogen-powered vehicles by harnessing the power of the sun.
Mindset, a Lucerne-based firm, hopes to release the first Swiss-designed hybrid car within about 18 months. Another company, Numexia, based in canton Vaud, in January unveiled a prototype for an electric delivery truck.
Even demand for electric-power bicycles appears to be on the rise. Bern-based BikeTec say company sales have expanded 100% for the last three years for its "Flyer" electric bikes.
The trend towards greener cars has gathered pace since the European Union struck a makeshift deal last year to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars, setting a 130g/km target in a phased approach starting in 2012, with full compliance in 2015.
The current EU-wide average is 158g/km, compared with 183g/km for Switzerland.
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