Greek innovation drives economy

AFP
When a group of Greek students dreamt up the Pyrforos electric vehicle, they never imagined their invention would inspire US automaker Tesla to invest in their crisis-hit country.
AFP
AFP

Students prepare to try their electric car prototype, Pyrforos, at the Polytechnic School of Athens campus. The car designed in Athens has attracted interest from the American manufacturer Tesla.

When a group of Greek students dreamt up the Pyrforos electric vehicle, they never imagined their futuristic, energy-efficient invention would inspire US automaker Tesla to invest in their crisis-hit country.

The tiny, pod-like car created by engineering students at the National Technical University of Athens has won cult status in Greece and scooped a string of awards at the Shell Eco-Marathon championship.

The vehicle is bright red and looks like a cross between a race car and a children’s toy. It was designed and built from scratch by students at the university, whose expertise was reportedly a factor in the US electric carmaker’s decision, announced in February, to set up a research and development facility in Greece.

It is a story Athens hopes to replicate after a turbulent decade of crippling financial woes that left the country on the brink of crashing out of the eurozone.

Built by the university’s Prometheus Team, the Pyrforos has seen several Greek engineers land jobs in the US, including at Tesla’s headquarters, said electrical engineering professor Antonios Kladas.

The new Tesla facility, run out of the state-run Demokritos scientific research center near Athens, could also draw Greek scientists living abroad to return, said Kladas, who heads the Prometheus Team.

This, he said, would be “very good news for the Greek economy,” hit badly by a brain drain.

After suffering a crippling 25 percent loss of gross national product, Greece is taking baby steps to emerge from a recession that pushed half a million people to flee in search of work.

Of all the EU nations, youth unemployment is still highest in Greece, hovering at just under 45 percent compared with an average of around 17 percent for the bloc.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed the move by Elon Musk’s Tesla to pour some 750,000 euros (US$925,000) into a country that had totally lost the confidence of investors.

Last year, the economy grew 1.4 percent, only the second time in a decade of crisis the nation had managed any expansion.

“Support for research and innovation plays a key role in restructuring production,” Tsipras said.

Given the sheer magnitude of Greece’s woes, it will take a lot more to get the country up to speed.

But Demokritos director George Nounesis hopes Tesla’s arrival will at least help put Greece on the map of global innovation — a first step toward recovery.

For now, Tesla is expected to hire 40 engineers to work at the facility, and Nounesis says most will be Greeks from the diaspora.


Special Reports
Top