Deciphering Number Plates: Switzerland

Deciphering Number Plates: Switzerland

Do you know why you can encounter two vehicles with the same registration number in Switzerland? Or why Switzerland has the international code CH? Or how much the most expensive Swiss number plate cost? Read on to find out!

19. 11. 2019 MODELS

This time, the Deciphering Number Plates series has set off to explore registration numbers in a country most famous for its luxury watches and banking services, and more recently for Roger Federer’s right hand.

Starting with a stumper: do you know why Switzerland has the international code CH? If you have no idea, don’t fret, as you are by no means alone. CH is the abbreviation of the Latin name for the Swiss Confederation, Confoederatio Helvetica.

It also happens to be the abbreviation you’ll find at the back of all Swiss vehicles when they go abroad – Switzerland has kept to a traditional sticker because (at least for the time being) Swiss number plates have not integrated the international code. This could change because there is a citizens’ initiative in Switzerland that is bent on holding a referendum to decide on precisely this issue.


The history of registration numbers in Switzerland dates all the way back to 1894, when the canton of Basel-Stadt passed a regulation requiring all motorised vehicles to be fitted with a number plate. Over time, this regulation was also adopted in other cantons so that, by 1905, it applied throughout Switzerland.

The current system of registration numbers in Switzerland was introduced in 1933, meaning that it has remained unchanged for 86 years. However, in the most populous cantons, the maximum number of possible combinations will soon be reached, so this system may well have to be reformed in the near future.


Swiss registration numbers comprise two initial letters, indicating one of the 26 Swiss cantons, followed by up to six digits, which are the serial number. The rear plate also depicts the Swiss coat of arms on the left and the coat of arms of the canton of registration on the right. The front number plate is roughly a third smaller than the rear one and it is always rectangular. The rear plate may be rectangular or square, whichever the owner wishes. And here we encounter one of the factors specific to the Swiss system: the registration number is not tied to the vehicle, but to the owner. Consequently, a plate need not be used just for one car – it can be alternated for use on two cars.


In Switzerland, registration numbers may be handed down from parents to children. Some plates have become part of the family heritage. The older the plate, the lower the number and, as in the UK, for example, the more prestigious it is. The similarity with the British system does not end there. In Switzerland, retired number plates are also for sale, the difference being that, here, it is the individual cantons who determine which ones will be offered for sale. Registration numbers are auctioned, with the most prestigious ones attracting bids in the hundreds of Swiss francs. The most expensive plate to date is ZG 10, which fetched 233,000 francs (EUR 215,000) in auction in 2018.

Besides traditional number plates, you can also come across special plates on Swiss roads, recognisable by their different colour scheme – the letters and digits tend to be black, but the background colour changes. For example, a number plate with a blue background indicates a construction vehicle or fire-brigade vehicles, while a green background is used for agricultural machinery. Only military plates have non-black letters and digits – they have white lettering on a black background and the number starts with the letter M rather than the canton code.

Land of Estate Cars and Four-wheel Drives


Answered by: Emanuel Steinbeck
PR Manager, ŠKODA Switzerland

How would you sum up ŠKODA’s historical presence on your market?

ŠKODA’s success story in Switzerland began in 1992. In the first year, just 60 ŠKODA vehicles were imported by AMAG dealership – 30 FAVORITs and 30 FORMANs. This would, however, change quite quickly over the following years – primarily following the launch of the OCTAVIA in 1996 and in particular its 4×4 derivative in 1999. The OCTAVIA was and is the perfect car for Switzerland. In 2002 – just 10 years after the first cars had been imported – ŠKODA sold more than 4,500 vehicles.

How is ŠKODA currently doing on your market?

In 2018, ŠKODA sold more than 19,000 vehicles in Switzerland, giving it a market share of 6.4% and making it the fourth bestselling brand. Currently, ŠKODA’s market share in Switzerland is 7.7%, claiming fourth place in an extremely competitive environment – this corresponds to around 15,500 ŠKODAs sold (vehicle registrations as at the end of August 2019).


Which models sell best on your market and how do they fare against the competitors in their segment?

The OCTAVIA is clearly the bestselling ŠKODA model in Switzerland – and, for the second time in a row, it is also the overall bestselling car in Switzerland. In addition, the OCTAVIA is the bestselling estate and fleet vehicle. The KAROQ is the seventh and the KODIAQ the eighth top-selling car across all brands (figures as at the end of July 2019). In the A SUV segment, the KAROQ and the KODIAQ claim second and third place in terms of sales figures for all brands, beaten only by the Volkswagen Tiguan (figures as at the end of July 2019).

Is there anything specific to your market or your country?

ŠKODA sells quite a high percentage of RS cars in Switzerland (currently 15% of OCTAVIAs are RSs and 29% of KODIAQs are RSs). There is also a high proportion of 4×4 cars: over 55% of all ŠKODA vehicles are ordered with four-wheel drive, and 56% of all OCTAVIA customers opt for all-wheel drive (figures as at the end of July 2019). Switzerland is an estate and 4×4 country – that’s why our slogan “ŠKODA. Made for Switzerland.” fits so perfectly.