The secret ideas factory

Esoro is making the cars of the future – and a hydrogen-powered lorry.

The zero-emissions truck of Swiss manufacturer Esoro recently started delivering fresh produce to Coop branches. Photo: Keystone

Almost everything that Esoro does in Fällanden is secret – and that has been the case for decades. That means practically all of its activities go on behind closed doors. The company is rarely visible, for instance when an articulated truck manufactured by Esoro delivers fresh produce to branches of the leading retailer, Coop, in the Aargau region. This heavy goods vehicle is the first of its kind in Switzerland. It is powered by hydrogen produced at a hydroelectric power plant in Aargau. A fuel cell acting as an on-board power station generates a continuous flow of electricity, charging a battery. The energy for acceleration comes from a battery which is much smaller than the ones found in an electric car. The lorry produces no exhaust fumes and does not take long to charge. This is a key factor when considering alternative drive systems for HGV fleets. The articulated truck was given the green light by the vehicle licensing office in Zurich last summer.

Decades of tinkering

“We work on challenging, complex cross-sector projects,” explains Esoro CEO Diego Jaggi. He has been involved with utopian ideas on wheels for a long time. It all started back in the 1980s with the Tour-de-Sol, the legendary solar-powered vehicle race through Switzerland. That spawned a company in 1990. Esoro is part of the big – though largely unknown – Swiss automotive industry, which generates annual sales of 16 billion Swiss francs a year and has a workforce of 34,000. “We have to hold our own in the industry,” Jaggi adds, “despite facing huge disadvantages in Switzerland.” These include the strength of the Swiss franc and customs duties – two factors that make everything more expensive and complex. Simply getting the necessary papers for a new vehicle is something of an art form. Jaggi estimates that vehicle registration alone accounts for about 20 % of the cost of construction and development for the fuel cell lorry – assuming the company has already done it once before. If not, it is 200 %.

To be able to use the coveted white numbers, Esoro is also ultimately dependent on the goodwill of the road traffic offices. After all, the costs of just a single vehicle are also very high for them. It would therefore be much easier for the authorities to find some tiny detail that is not compliant and to refuse to issue a permit. Nevertheless, the vehicle licensing office in Zurich made the effort. Its experts read up on the subject and collaborated constructively.

19 tonnes permitted

The Esoro truck is the first in Switzerland to receive certification in accordance with the provisions for zero-emission commercial vehicles. Trucks can weigh 18 tonnes in Switzerland and 19 tonnes in the EU. Switzerland now also permits alternative-drive vehicles with a total weight of 19 tonnes. However, significant modifications have to be made to meet the requirements of mass production.

It is therefore important to Esoro that the individual parts look perfect. When one of the first hydrogen-powered cars was presented at the Geneva Motor Show a number of years ago, a senior manager at VW is said to have told Diego Jaggi: “The paintwork is good.” In the jargon of the German automotive world, that effectively means “perfect”. The paintwork also looks good on the Rinspeed prototypes that Esoro regularly builds for Zurich-based businessman Frank Rinderknecht. Whether swimming, floating or diving, they all come out of the secret factory in Fällanden. These Rinspeed vehicles may look peculiar, but many of the ideas re-emerge later in mass-produced cars. Esoro is constantly working on the vehicles of the distant future in what is known as “advance development”, an area in which the sky’s the limit in terms of ideas and concepts.

Andreas Schwander is a freelance journalist and consultant in Basel

Comments (7)
  • Fritz Watt
    Fritz Watt at 21.03.2018
    Was für ein unqualifizierter Artikel. In dieser Techgnologie wurde rein gar nichts "erfunden". Brennstoffzellen wären super-grossartig, aber leider gehen bei der der Hin- und Her-Umwandlung 60% verloren und das ist nicht akzeptabel! Spart Eure Elogien für den Tag, an dem dieses Problem gelöst ist. Lange wird es - hoffentlich - nicht mehr dauern.
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  • Dr.Ute von der Heyde
    Dr.Ute von der Heyde at 22.03.2018
    Na endlich eine Alternative für die Zukunft.
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  • Moritz Steiger
    Moritz Steiger at 22.03.2018
    Interesting to hear about Hydrogen power which seems to have been supplanted in development terms by electric or battery power. If we can get over the initial development and production costs it looks to be a better solution that just electric battery which looks to be storing problems for the future with a huge problem in what to do with spent batteries.
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  • Jen le Grand
    Jen le Grand at 23.03.2018
    Schade das diese Technologie nicht überleben wird, da sie zu kompliziert ist. Man kann sich ja kaum vorstellen das so eine Anlage "zu Tanken", zu Hause oder auch auf langen Strecken plausibel ist. Die Technologie (Infrastruktur) ist viel zu teuer mit Elektrizität verglichen.
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  • John Bosshard
    John Bosshard at 23.03.2018
    Fantastic that the Swiss have come up with this! I know that hydrogen is the fuel of the future the sooner we get more hydrogen fueled vehicles the better the world will be. I have thought about this for well over 20 years. Every city, town and village has to have electric and water so hydrogen can be produced everywhere and produced during low peak electricity hours and stored. The pollution is distilled water! Who can argue with that? Probably the oil companies, the biggest polluters of the world!
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    • Jean le Grand
      Jean le Grand at 27.03.2018
      This will not happen for the simple reason, it to be WAY too expensive to build such an infrastructure. You could never live "off grid" with this technology. 18 years ago In India alone 260 million people were living off the grid. Why generate electricity than use electricity to generate hydrogen??? Seems backwards to me. :-)
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  • Erwin Balli-Bautista
    Erwin Balli-Bautista at 28.03.2018
    Das funktioniert doch nicht einmal in der Theorie. Wie stellen sich diese Leute doch nur das erforderliche Tankstellennetz vor?
    Wer, ums Himmels willen, soll diese gigantische Infrastruktur aufbauen. Da wird etwas entwickelt ohne dass die notwendigen Grundlagen vorhanden sind
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