A new three-wheel electric vehicle called Sam is making its mark on Swiss streets. With two wheels at the front and one at the back, Sam has been specifically designed for short journeys in cities or in urban areas.
Designed and assembled by the CREE company (Creation Research Engineeering and Ecology) of Biel, Sam is labelled as environment-friendly, cheaper to run than conventional cars, safe, quiet - and fun.
Designer and CREE chief executive officer Marc Frehner insists that Sam is not really a car.
"Sam is a product half-way between a scooter and a normal car. It's specifically built for the mobility requirement, that means for one person to go from A to B," Frehner told swissinfo.
Frehner said that the idea for a purpose-built car to cover short distances is nothing new and he cites the Morgan and Messerschmidt cars as examples of three-wheelers of the past.
Frehner and some of his colleagues are no strangers to the automobile world, having worked together when the Swatch group and Volkswagen cooperated in the early 1990s on a project for a small, environmentally friendly car.
That cooperation failed, with Swatch eventually teaming up with DaimlerChrysler to create the Smart car.
However, Frehner and his friends did not give up their ideas and formed CREE in 1996 to continue their work.
"We have worked a lot with the Biel Engineers' School, which is renowned for its high technology electric propulsion systems, which was obviously a big help to power this vehicle," Frehner said.
Fun to drive
"At the end of the day it has to be fun to drive, fast and meet all the requirements that people expect of cars," he added.
Sam, which can carry two people, one sitting behind the other, has a permanent magnet motor that can push the vehicle up to a speed of 85 kilometres per hour over a distance of between 50 and 70 kilometres.
"It's a very agile vehicle. We have a fast acceleration from zero to 50 kph in seven seconds and that's comparable to a small car," Frehner told swissinfo.
According to a study carried out on behalf of CREE, over short distances, most car drivers are alone and it is this segment that the company sees as its market.
"Since everybody really has this urge for mobility over short distances, I think it's a very large potential consumer group that could be interested in Sam," Frehner said.
"We've found a lot of interest in the 35-55 age group which is a little bit older than we expected," he added.
Switzerland's second-largest retail group, Co-op, is encouraging Sam on the road to success. The company has spent SFr1,000,000 ($626,959.25) to buy the first 80 pre-series vehicles and is offering the public the chance to test them in and around Zurich and Basel.
"Our aim is to help Sam pass from the prototype stage to a vehicle that can be commercialised and so promote and encourage the fascinating team of a start up company," said Co-op director Jürg Peritz.
Sam is expected to go on sale next year at a cost of around SFr12,000. Potential drivers have to be at least 18 years old and possess a valid car or motor cycle licence.
by Robert Brookes