Air Car Prepares For The Market

A French-designed car that is driven by compressed air and claims speeds of more than 60 miles per hour is supposed to go into commercial production early this summer, although skeptics of the technology are not being able to hold their breath.

The Air Car is the brainchild of Guy Negre, a French inventor, and former F1 engineer. In February, Negre’s company, Motor Development International (MDI), declared a deal to manufacture the technology with Tata Motors. It’s a novel, an Eco-friendly, and a scalable technology. It can be used in cars, in commercial vehicles, and in power production.

Though Negre first revealed the technology in the early 90s, interest has grown recently. In addition to the Tata deal, Negre has also signed deals to bring the design to twelve other countries, including South Africa, Israel, and Germany. But experts opine that the car may never make it to the US streets.

The working of Air Car is similar to electric cars, but rather than storing electrical energy in a huge battery, the vehicle transforms energy into air pressure and stores it in a tank. According to MDI’s Miguel Celades, Negre’s engine uses compressed air stored at a pressure of 300 bars to pump the pistons, providing a range of around 60 miles per tank at highway speeds. An air compressor can be plugged into a general outlet at home to recharge the tank in about four hours, or an industrial compressor can fill it up in a few minutes for around two dollars.

As per early media reports, Tata could have an Air Car on sale by the end of 2008, but Ray says it’s likely to be a couple of years before the technology is available.

In 2003, Maeder formed ZevCat, a Califonia company that aims to bring the Air Car to America. Till date, however, his plans have halted for financial reasons. Without enough capital to build and crash test prototypes, he couldn’t demonstrate the technology to the investors who might be willing to fund more prototypes.

The car might gain attention in the US if it makes it to market in India or elsewhere before other burgeoning technologies like plug-in fuel-cell electric cars or hybrid cars. If that were to happen, compressed air could become the “next big thing” for eco-friendly drivers, says Larry Rinek, an auto analyst with Frost and Sullivan. But Rink does question whether the car will have a mass appeal. Another unknown is if the vehicle could pass crash tests.

Rinek said that this is an R&D novelty. It’s unknown and untrusted, particularly in North America where, he says, adoption of any new technology is very slow.

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