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An Indian company has already invested $30 million in this? I am not an engineer but how does the efficiency of filling up compressed air compare to water or hydrogen or gasoline or diesel?


NICE, France — It seems almost too good to be true: a car that runs on something you can literally pull right out of the atmosphere. French developer Guy Nègre, a former F1 racing engineer, has just hooked up with Tata Motors of India on a development deal that could see the CAT (compressed air technology) car on roads in the near future.

Nègre's company, Moteur Developpment International (MDI), has been working on the vehicle since the early 1990s, showing concepts at alt-energy conferences and collecting dozens of patents. The car has been produced in prototypes called the Minicat for in-town driving and the Citycat with a longer driving range thanks to an additional diesel or ethanol tank on board. It uses an electric motor paired with compressed air of the type used by deep-sea divers. The pressurized air makes the car's pistons move — and the pistons compress the air into a reservoir that lets it keep working.

The plan is to offer refills of the compressed air at service stations. Tata has invested nearly $30 million in the project and reportedly will start pre-production of the CAT car this year. How it stacks up next to Tata's own just-introduced Nano, the $2,500 "people's car," should be interesting. The CAT car is expected to be priced closer to $6,000. Nègre has an answer for that in the OneCAT concept, which would come in a "basic and cheaper" version with no backseats — and no top or windows.

Details about the car — including a 3D animation of the powertrain — can be seen at the Air Car Web site.

What this means to you: Sounds like a good use of a renewable resource — if it can really be made practical. — Laura Sky Brown, Correspondent
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