A Vision For The Future?
In recent decades, as long term environmental problems associated with auto emissions and global warming gained wider public attention, some talented inventors have searched for ways to design “greener” vehicles with a reduced carbon footprint. Guy and Cyril Nègre, a father and son design team in Nice, France, proposed one of the most daring potential solutions: a car powered by an engine running on compressed air.
The initial three-wheeled vehicle seated three people and weighed only 220 kilograms. It reached a range of 65 miles after a one minute recharge. Its rounded design contours somewhat resembled a VW bug combined with a golf cart. Instead of utilizing batteries, the innovative auto relied upon a carbon fiber pressure tank.
An Intriguing History
Although this invention still appears years away from actual implementation, the story of its development and adaptation may offer useful insights into the automotive industry. Perhaps in the future, commuters will travel in air-powered, environmentally friendly vehicles?
In 1991, Guy Nègre, a mechanical engineer and former Formula One engine designer, developed the vehicle he called “the AIRPod”. He had previously designed engines for Renault. He worked closely with is son, Cyril, an engineer with Bugatti Automobiles. Their new design relied on tanks of highly compressed air.
The compact vehicle requires cold air as a fuel, compressed up to 300 times the level of atmospheric volume. The car heats the air and uses it to power a piston engine. Reportedly, the AIRPod produces a stunning zero emissions. It can travel up to 35 miles per hour on compressed air alone.
Mr. Nègre formed a Luxembourg-based company named Motor Development International” to promote the sale of this invention. He worked to perfect the car at his factory outside Carros in southern France.
A New Phenomenon
In 2009, news reports circulated suggesting the air powered vehicle might finally obtain mass production. That year, Guy Nègre reportedly signed a number of deals to begin manufacturing his invention in India, Israel, South Africa and Germany, in addition to India. Yet surprisingly perhaps, the air-powered car has yet to reach a global market. Sadly, an anticipated launch in the United States during 2010 did not gain momentum.
Considerable problems remained with the AIRPod’s performance as a roadway vehicle. For one thing, it reportedly enjoys a range of only 60 miles per tank. Its maximum speed proved restrictive also, compared to competing vehicles in the marketplace. The air-powered car does recharge within a four hour period, (a time interval less than one required by some competing electric vehicles). Refilling from a compressed air station typically costs less than $3.00. So far, it has received acceptance mainly as a fuel efficient aircraft runabout for airplane maintenance crews.
If successful, a vehicle such as the AIRPod holds the potential to revolutionize many aspects of daily life. For one thing, by running on air alone, it could significantly reduce carbon emissions around the globe.
For several years, speculation circulated India’s Tata Motors might soon introduce the AIRPod on a commercial basis. This innovation could certainly offer a valuable tool for alleviating problems of smog and air pollution which may soon occur as rapidly developing Indian municipalities boost the number of drivers on urban roadways. The air-powered vehicle might also assist China’s efforts to obtain more environmentally-friendly autos.
Tata Motors unveiled a design for an air-powered vehicle called the Mini-Cat a few years ago; it carries up to six people. The Mini-Cat’s 125-mile range and top speed of 68 miles per hour would make it competitive in some automotive marketplaces.
Yet apparently so far, this innovative vehicle has not gained a widespread following. Efforts to introduce the air-powered car have not received a lot of recent press coverage. Whether the vehicle will re-emerge in the near future remains unclear. Development and testing efforts apparently continue on an ongoing basis.
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