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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
France to unveil air-powered car
The prototype developed by MDI cars
The new car has a range of about 200 kilometres

Engineers in France believe they have come up with the answer that environmentalists and economists have spent years searching for: a commercially viable, non-polluting car, which costs next to nothing to run.

The latest prototype will be unveiled on Thursday at the Paris motor show.

Like everything else about this vehicle, it all sounds impossible.

When we went to the company's factory-cum-design shop just outside Nice in the South of France a black blanket was put between us and it.

But we were told it has a steering wheel in the middle, with passenger seats either side, a boot the size of the biggest estate, but in overall size terms is no bigger than a Smart car.

The prototype developed by MDI cars
A full tank of air will cost about 1.50 euro
The air is compressed at pressure about 150 times the rate you would put into car tyres or your bicycle.

An earlier version of the car that we drove was noisy and slow, and a tiny bit cumbersome.

But then this vehicle will not be competing with a Ferrari or Rolls Royce. And the manufacturers are not seeking to develop a Formula One version of the vehicle.

What the company is aiming at is the urban motorist: delivery vehicles, taxi drivers, and people who just use their car to nip out to the shops.

The latest vehicle is said to have come on leaps and bounds from the early model we drove.

It is said to be much quieter, a top speed of 110 km/h (65 mph), and a range of around 200 km before you need to fill the tanks up with air.

Filling up

The car comes fitted with its own compressor so you can fill up at home. But that would take four hours.

The company has developed the technology to refill the vehicle in three minutes, although there are no service station forecourts with the compressed air machines to do that yet.

And the cost? Cyril Negre, the head of Research and Development at MDI cars, reckons a full tank of air would be about 1.50 euros.

But the difference between success and failure in the motor industry is investment and faith. On paper the car works; around the industrial estate that we took the early prototype, it works.

Now the question is: how to make the leap from concept to the market? Will the dream become something more than so much compressed air?


Cars and strategies

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18 Sep 02 | England
17 Sep 02 | Business
21 Aug 02 | Archive
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