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Pandemic dents Swiss appetite for new cars

Gas guzzlers still dominate car sales in Switzerland, but the trend is slowly changing. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Covid-19 has been blamed for a 17.8% decline in car registrations in Switzerland last year. The number of motor vehicle sales fell even further – by nearly a quarter.

There was mixed news on the environmental front in the official statistics for road vehicle registrations, released on Friday. The proportion of electric and hybrid cars increased again, but the number of big gas guzzlers still remains high.

The total number of cars on the streets remained stable last year at 540 per 1,000 inhabitants. Fewer people were inclined to get rid of their old cars, with the average age of traded-in vehicles rising from 9.7 to 10 years. This reluctance to upgrade to a newer car resulted in a reduced number of 336,841 new vehicles being registered – the lowest number since 1996.

The picture is variable depending on the type of vehicle. Last year there were 23.7% fewer passenger cars registered and fewer freight vehicles. But buses, mobile homes and agricultural vehicles all saw an uptick. The Swiss discovered an enhanced passion for motorbikes, with 50,120 new registrations (up 17.5%)

There was also a surge in demand for plug-in (electric or hybrid) vehicles that now account for 14.3% of the 4.66 million passenger cars on Swiss roads. However, four out of five new cars bought in 2020 emit more than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre. There is a trend towards more people opting for cars that fall under this key emissions target but not enough to meet government targets, says the Federal Statistical Office.

Car dealers were also affected by the pandemic. This is reflected in a 23.7% decrease in sales – from 312,902 in 2019 to 238,664 in 2020.

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