Swatch’s Hayek to Develop Eco-Friendly Engine

Nicolas Hayek, Sr., chairman of the Swatch Group, the world’s largest watchmaker, plans to start a joint venture to develop an ecologically friendly fuel-cell powered affordable engine for cars, a Swatch Group spokesperson told JCK, confirming reports in French language Swiss media.

The project will involve the Swatch Group, the Hayek Engineering Company, a Swiss research organization called the Paul Scherrer Institute, and a Swiss energy company called Groupe E.

A formal announcement and press conference concerning project and a new holding company formed for it should come in the next couple months, says Beatrice Howald, Swatch Group spokesperson.

She confirmed that the partners plan to invest 20 to 30 million Swiss francs (about $16.6 million to $24.9 million) in the endeavor.

Announcement of the project was first reported on Aug. 23 by the Swiss magazine Hebdo. In that article, Hayek is quoted as saying he would “do everything within my powers to accelerate the development of alternative and renewable energy.” (Fuel cell technology produces electricity and heat, without combustion.)

The first results of the project should be ready in three years, in 2010, said Howald, confirming reports.

Hayek has long been interested in eco-friendly cars. In the early 1990s, he developed the then-radical concept of a two-seat mini-car for use in Europe’s cities only. Volkswagen was initially interested, but pulled out. Hayek then linked up with the German carmaker Mercedes. It set up a separate division to produce the tiny “Smart” car (originally called the “Swatch” car), but following several changes to his original concept, Hayek sold his interest in the project to Mercedes in 1998 and ended involvement. However, his interest in eco-friendly cars hasn’t weakened, as show by his newest project.