Thursday, March 5, 2009

Air-powered car on show

March 5, 2009

GENEVA - CONSUMERS have grown used to the idea of cars powered with alternative fuels, from hydrogen to electricity. But running a car on air? French firm MDI says it can be done, and used the Geneva Auto Show to display a bubble-shaped 3-wheeler it plans to start rolling out later this year.

The AirPod can travel up to 137 miles (220 km) on a single 46-gallon (175-litre) tank of compressed air, producing zero emissions on the road, MDI spokesman Sebastien Braud said on Wednesday.

Drivers can recharge their air supply in eight hours by plugging the car into electricity outlets, or by going to special 'air stations' where the process takes only 2 minutes.

The AirPod will be trialed by airlines Air France and KLM at their bases in Paris and Amsterdam, starting in May, said Mr Braud. Another trial will begin in the southern French city of Nice in December.

The car will take some getting used to, and not just because of its novel power supply. Steering is done with a joystick, and the only doors open to the front and back. The two passenger seats are rear-facing and can be replaced with a cargo space.

Mr Braud said the AirPod solves the problem of most electric-powered cars - heavy and costly batteries. This allows the car to be sold at a comparatively modest 6,000 euros (S$11,700).

MDI is already planning a second model. The 4-wheeler OneFlowAIR cabrio will also run on compressed air, but can burn conventional fuels to extend its range.

Mr Braud dismissed the suggestion that consumers might find his air-powered models a little lightweight.

Pointing at the green offerings of several well-known brands at the Geneva Auto Show, he questioned why anyone who wants an eco-friendly drive would buy a heavy sports car.

'That three-ton, 300 horsepower electric over there? That's bioterrorism,' Mr Braud said. -- AP

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