July 7, 2008

Driving on Air

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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India's largest automaker has just unveiled a zero-emission air-powered car, affectionately called the CityCAT. This impressive car is powered entirely from compressed air, and can reach speeds of 68 mph. One tank of air will yield 125 miles of driving and cost only about $2. The price tag is starts at $7000, and the first models will be rolling off production lines late this summer.

The air car will get about 120 mpg on the highway and, oddly, even more in the city, due to its piston design. Filling the tank will be relatively simple (a problem for hydrogen cars). Any air compressor will do, and alternatively, an on-board compressor can be plugged in to an electric outlet. Because it's a non-combustion engine, owners will change the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) every 30,000 miles.

The CityCAT air car is the brain child of Guy Nègre, who has engineered Formula One racing cars. The Indian automaker Tata Motors, known for its innovative and earth-friendly vehicles, has partnered with Nègre to mass produce the CityCAT. Nègre has signed deals to bring the car to 12 other countries, including Germany, South Africa, Spain, France and Israel.

Will we see the car anytime soon in America? Very probably not, says auto industry insiders. Even if the automotive and oil lobbyists approved the idea, the air car's small, lightweight fiberglass body (which is literally glued together) would not fare well on American streets.

But the U.S. may be ready for one of Nègre's future zero-emission car designs, which he is already furiously pursuing.

Learn more about Guy Nègre.
Visit the Air Car web site.