MDI says that in air-only, zero-emission mode in urban settings, the car has a range of up to 125 miles, but that drops to about 50 miles when it is driven at faster speeds up to 60 miles per hour. A full charge of air, including the electricity used to compress it, is expected to cost less than $3. In the dual-mode version, with assistance from fuel, speeds can reach 100 miles per hour, and range expands to 900 miles on less than a gallon of fuel (although the faster one goes, the shorter the range).
The idea is for the car to provide zero pollution when driven in cities, and lower emissions when driven faster, as in suburban and rural settings. “It’s a little more like a hybrid,” says Haydon. “The new innovation will make it more appealing to the average buyer. In terms of the carbon dioxide emissions, it will have five times less than the average vehicle.”
The first CAT car to be produced is called the OneCAT, a “utilitarian” car for urban and rural driving that’s specifically designed for use in overcongested cities and priced in a range ($5,100 to $7,800) within reach of consumers in a developing economy, such as India.
The ultralight bodies of the vehicles would be made of glued-together fiberglass and injected foam, and the aluminum chassis would also be glued, not welded, to simplify manufacturing.
Before production of the CAT can begin in India, likely followed later by Spain and Australia, MDI says that it must start mass production of the cars at its factory in France. A spokeswoman at MDI’s marketing office in Barcelona says that this will likely happen in September 2008.
But Frost & Sullivan’s Rinek believes that there’s limited chance that major automakers in the United States will take the Air Car seriously. He points to the need to build an infrastructure of compressor stations and the need to comply with strict safety standards. (The Air Car cannot be fueled using the air pumps currently found at some gas stations.)
“In North America, it’s basically a nonstarter,” says Rinek, admitting that there are limited niche markets. “The only potential, if any, would be for an inner-city, short-commute vehicle with an ultra-greenie owner.”