MDI's Air Car.
I've been spending a lot of time lately researching green cars. I'm not
exactly not sure why — I'm not even in the market for a car — but I've
been doing it anyway. Perhaps it's the latent engineer in me. As much as
I love high-end works of engineering art like the Porsche 911 Turbo or
Danica Patrick's Honda Indy-car, the idea of people getting super-
creative to find new automotive technologies just fascinates the hell
out of me. But then, I always love it when people get creative like
that. Getting creative seems to be the one thing that we humans are
really good at. Getting creative has been what has kept us going on
this planet for the past 6 million years. And if there's any hope of
us getting through just the next 60 years, it's definitely going to
involve getting more creative.
I've run across a good number of different approaches to green car
technology in my research. But the new Air Car, soon to be marketed by
Zero Pollution Motors, is certainly the most unique engineering concept
I've run across.
The car was developed by the MDI Group and designed by Formula 1 race-
car engineer Guy Negre using a grant from Indian car manufacturer Tata
Motors. The car uses compressed air tanks which can be recharged by
plugging the car into an electrical outlet. At low speed the car uses
only air from the tank. At higher speeds, gasoline is used to heat the
air and provide more power.
The engine specs are on par with other combined fuel vehicles, with the
engine putting out 75 horsepower with a top speed of 96 mph. Using only
the compressor the Air Car emits 0 g/km CO2. Using the gasoline powered
compression feature, the C02 levels are listed as "negligible" — whatever
that means. The car gets a range of 848 travel miles on an 8 gallon tank
of gas, or (I'll do the math for ya) 106 miles per gallon of gas. That's
the highest mpg figure I've run across.
This car isn't going to get you up and down big hills or around mountains,
if you do that kind of driving. And it would probably be way underpowered
on the highway also. But for getting around town (if your town is reasonably
flat) you couldn't do much better than this car unless you rode a bicycle or
roller-skated to work.
There are a few negatives about the Air Car. First, it's as noisy as a lawn
mower. So we might be reducing CO2 while simultaneously contributing to the
noise pollution of our cities. I also have to wonder about the car from the
safety aspect — though to be honest the safety rating of the car remains to
The Air Car could be marketed in the U.S. as early as 2009.
It frustrates me when I hear worn-out political types here in the U.S. talk
about what our next fuel source is going to be. Coming off of a 100 year
period of what you might call an energy mono-culture — petroleum — it
is now our habit to think about replacing one monopoly with another, one
single source with another. But if Europe is any indicator, the future
of energy lies not with replacing the mono-culture but with moving
towards an energy poly-culture. Why limit ourselves to just one type of
energy source? Recent car models such as the Fiat 500, the Ford Flexi-Fuel,
the Elettrica, the BMW Series 1, and the Air Car all represent valid solutions
to going more green. As for accompanying changes in our culture and way of
thinking, Americans need to realize that going to green transportation isn't
just some latest fashion trend like picking out a pair of cool new frames at
the optometrist, but represents the future of our planet. It also makes sense
in terms of both our pocketbooks and in the creation of new industries and
To see a working model of the Air Car, you can catch this video on
youTube. There's also an interesting bit at the end of the video about
an Australian who has invented a simply brilliant rotary compressed air
And in a related story, it seems that the Toyota Prius — or more
accurately a car which looks very much like one — has made it into the
most recent version of the Grand Theft Auto video game. Go figure.
Lastly, though this doesn't have anything to do with green cars, I'd
just like to say that I love the way Aussies and Brits pronounce the
word "aluminum" — alu-MINium. What a hoot!