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Solar-powered car completes round-the-world trip

A Swiss teacher completed the first round-the-world trip in a solar-powered car on Thursday and said he hoped the 52,000-km (32,000-mile) odyssey would inspire carmakers to make greener models.

Louis Palmer smashed his “solar taxi” through a wall of polystyrene blocks marking the end of the 17-month trip outside the venue of UN climate talks in Poland with Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official, in the passenger seat. “I think it’s great -- he’s driven around the world in this thing so that’s a world record,” de Boer said after clambering out of the blue and white three-wheeled car, which tows a flat-topped trailer with 6 square meters of solar panels.

“The car ran like a Swiss clock,” said Palmer, 36, after the trip through 38 nations during which he said he lost just two days to repairs since leaving Lucerne in July 2007. He said he got an enthusiastic welcome everywhere on a trip that took him through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and North America, with some stretches by ferry. Only Japan, which bans cars with Swiss license plates, refused entry. “People love this idea of a solar car,” he said. “I hope that the car industry hears ....and makes electric cars in future.”

Passengers included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Monaco’s Prince Albert, Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, he said.

The car runs on solar power but Palmer also had a battery for travel at night or in less sunny nations, such as winter-time Poland, that he recharged from local electricity. Palmer says the car cost as much as two Ferraris to build and has a top speed of 90 km (55 miles) per hour. If mass produced, he said it could cost €10,000 ($12,620), with an extra €4,000 for solar panels.

Palmer said he would now return home. “I promised my mother to be back before Christmas,” he said. Next year, he said he hoped to arrange a trip with six vehicles around the world in 80 days drawing power from sources such as hydro, geothermal and wind energy. (Reuters)