The Tracer, an electric vehicle built by Swiss firm Peraves, has won a share of the X Prize, a competition for innovative technologies sponsored by the US government.
The firm received its award on Thursday after a competition involving 111 teams and 136 vehicles in a series of road and laboratory tests.
The Winterthur-based company was the winner of the Alternative Class-tandem category. It shared the $10 million prize (SFr 10.18 million), with the American winners of two other categories.
Besides receiving $2.5 million, Peraves will be included in a programme of the US Department of Energy that helps boost sales of green vehicles.
“It’s a great honour, especially because we were never allowed to compete in regular competition before as the Tracer is neither a car nor a motorcycle,” Roger Riedener, driver of the Tracer and CEO of Peraves told swissinfo.ch.
“The originality of the X Prize is that it’s a level playing field for all vehicle concepts to be measured against each other,” he added.
Surrounded by his team, Riedener received his cheque at a ceremony with high-profile guests that included Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives; Ed Markey, chairman of the House subcommittee on Energy and Environment; John Holdren, White House advisor for science and technology; and Swiss ambassador Urs Ziswiler.
“Each team has worked to accelerate the future and help preserve our planet,” said Pelosi, while Markey hailed Peraves and the other prize-winners as “pioneers who are changing the world”.
“It’s time to put an end to our destructive dependence on oil, this is not sustainable and we see its consequences on the environment with the BP oil spill,” added Markey.
The Massachusetts Representative is the author of a bill aimed at promoting the development and commercialisation of electric vehicles.
Ziswiler said that the Tracer win showed just how much Switzerland belongs to the 21st century.
“We are much more than those clichés of cheese, chocolate, watches and even banks, and here we have the living proof of it, in this team of innovators,” he pointed out.
But Peraves, though based in Switzerland, only employs eight people in Winterthur near Zurich, whereas there are about 40 employees in the US and 16 in the Czech Republic.
“Asking what is Swiss in the Tracer is like asking what is German in Porsche, which produce some of their cars in Slovakia and Finland and all their engines in Hungary”, said Riedener.
Riedener explained that Tracers are entirely handmade, requiring around 700 hours work to put each one together. “Labour costs are SFr100 an hour in Switzerland and that’s why we had to move production.”
Administration and engineering are based in Winterthur, body work in the Czech Republic, assembly in California and distribution in Virginia.
“Labour costs in the US are much lower than in Switzerland: depending on the state, it’s SFr 30-50 an hour,” said Riedener.
Despite this relocation, the electric Tracer still costs $99,000 in its basic version. But that is less than some of Tracer’s competitors, for instance the American Tesla, which sells for at least $120,000.
A year of profit
“2010 is the first year we’ve made money,” Riedener told swissinfo.ch. Peraves has sold 36 electric Tracers so far this year.
So who is the typical customer? A male, 45 to 55 years old, upper management or business owner, perhaps a Porsche or Ferrari driver, or someone who rode motorcycles when they were younger, according to Riedener.
Eight out of the 36 electric Tracers sold this year were purchased in the US, where despite the recession, the rich still seem to have plenty of purchasing power.
Riedener reckons the American market has even more potential, pointing the finger at the internal combustion engine.
“Americans pollute two to three times more than Europeans, so there’s a bigger need here and changes go faster,” said Riedener.
Seeking new customers, he will present the Tracer at the upcoming Santa Monica Alternative Car Expo in Los Angeles before heading back to Switzerland.
Roger Riedener, pilot and CEO:
The 53 year old was born in Zurich and lives in Winterthur.
He has been Peravas’s CEO since 2009.
He drove the Tracer in the X-Prize competition.
In 1989, he bought the first version of the petrol Tracer and transformed it into an electric vehicle.
X Prize for X-Tracer:
The X-Prize is the most well funded contest in the history of car innovation.
It is financed by private firms under the aegis of the US Department of Energy.
Swiss manufacturer Peraves won $2.5 million for its electric Tracer.
The fuel version of the Tracer manages 235.5 miles to the gallon (nearly 100 kilometres per litre); the electric version can do over 320 kilometres.
Firms competing came from countries including Canada, Britain, Germany, Finland, Italy and Thailand.
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