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Road taxes: major differences between cantons for electric vehicles

A standard cantonal tax on vehicles was discussed at a federal level in the 1990s, but as no standard solution could be found, there are differences between cantons in how tax is calculated.

In 2007, the Swiss Association of Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authorities (asa) and cantons developed a model which can be used as a pattern variant for promoting energy-efficient motor vehicles in Switzerland. It relates to a rebate model that is independent from the existing tax assessment bases and does not require a change to them.

Tax assessment bases for the tax on vehicles, as at 2020

The following table provides information on the assessment bases used for the tax on vehicles. These can be divided into four categories: cylinder capacity, total weight, performance, CO2 and certain combinations. In most cantons, cylinder capacity (or tax horsepower) is used as the basis for calculating the tax on vehicles.

The historically determined tax system with different assessment bases that currently exists in the various cantons is not affected by the rebate system. There are no tax benefits in the cantons AG, AI, AR, LU, NE, SH, SZ and VS.

Assessment basis Cantons
Cylinder capacity or tax horsepower (12): AG, FR, GL, GR, LU, NW, OW, SH, SO, TG, VS, ZG
Total weight (7): AI, AR, BE, BL, JU, SG, UR
Total weight and performance (3): SZ, TI, VD
Total weight and cylinder capacity (1): ZH
Empty weight and CO2 emissions (1): BS
Performance (1): GE
CO2 emissions (1): NE

No CO2 emission but still more expensive

The tax comparison shows that despite a rebate system, eco-friendly cars – such as Tesla – are heavily taxed compared to traditional vehicles. The reason lies in the performance of the electric engines. These are more efficient and smaller compared with combustion engines, but they are simply able to achieve higher levels of performance. This is because electric vehicles need higher performance as they usually weigh considerably more than conventional vehicles (the batteries are a major reason for this). Today, performance is still taxed in just four cantons (GE, SZ, TI, VD). Some cantons use cylinder capacity as the assessment basis, which is also problematic. As electric vehicles have no cylinder capacity, the taxes are calculated on the basis of other factors. The cantons GR, NW and ZG take the total weight into account; the cantons LU, SH and VS, the maximum performance; and the cantons AG and FR, the “thirty-minute performance”. Ultimately, it is not relevant which form of performance is taxed. The conversion factor is the more important: e.g. in LU, the Tesla Model S 75 D is taxed like a 4.6 litre engine. A total of 18 cantons offer a bonus but this is time-limited in 12 cantons (on average, for three years after first being put on the road). The penalty, by contrast, applies without a time limit.

Status: December 2020

Sources and additional information:

Cost comparison of past and current batteries

The prices for lithium-ion batteries are reducing every year and currently stand at 230 euros for each kilowatt hour. As a comparison: in 2007, the costs were around 1,000 euros. Nevertheless, the battery remains one of the most expensive components in electric vehicles. As the price is calculated per kilowatt hour, it is primarily the capacity that determines what electric car batteries cost manufacturers.