i guess we're getting closer to this one. recall word of it was posted here a few months back. now in the LA Times, 2-22-2005.

this opens up various methods to get cars moving. gas, electric, mechanical, etc.


BEHIND THE WHEEL
A Little Engine That Could Make Gasoline Obsolete
Pollution-free vehicle is powered by compressed air. Critics say it has had trouble reaching its range projections.


By Dan Weikel, Times Staff Writer 2-22-2005
You could say that Guy Negre, a French automotive engineer and former race car designer, is full of hot air. Or at least his latest invention is.

Negre's Luxembourg-based company, Moteur Developpment International, is developing a line of cars, vans and pickups powered exclusively by compressed air. There's no gasoline, no costly service schedules and no polluting exhaust.

The prototype vehicles are so clean, the company says, that the air coming out of them is often cleaner than when it goes in.

"This represents something truly revolutionary in the automobile industry," said Shiva Vencat, the company's representative in the United States. "We are talking about changing the way we make cars, how we buy cars, and, more importantly, we are talking about a clean car."

MDI claims that its air-powered automobiles will eventually render the internal combustion engine "as obsolete as the black-and-white television."

The company plans to produce vans, family sedans, taxis, small trucks and three-passenger runabouts called the MiniCat.

All are prototypes. Their bodies are made of aluminum tubing, fiberglass and injected foam. Prices are expected to range from less than $10,000 for the MiniCat to $16,000 for a six-seat sedan called the CitiCat.

These are no ordinary cars. Power comes from fresh air stored in reinforced carbon-fiber tanks beneath the chassis. Air is compressed to 4,500 pounds per square inch about 150 times the pressure of the typical car tire. The air is fed into four cylinders where it expands, driving specially designed pistons. About 25 horsepower is generated.

Though technical problems are being worked out, company officials say the car is capable of 70 mph and a 120-mile range under normal city conditions, performance that is comparable to electric cars.

Critics say the car has had trouble living up to its range projections. But company officials say they are trying to overcome that by warming the stored air.

Recharging the onboard tanks takes about four hours using the car's small compressor, which can be plugged into any wall outlet. Gas stations equipped with special air pumps can replenish the tanks in about three minutes. Company officials say the oil only needs to be changed every 31,000 miles.

The idea of using compressed air isn't new. Writer Jules Verne predicted in the 1860s that the technology would be used to power cars in Paris by the late 20th century. Some primitive engines date to the early 1900s, and compressed air has been used for years to start race cars.

Negre, who designed engines for Formula One cars, founded MDI in 1991 to further develop compressed-air technology. The company's factory is in Nice, France, and employs about 40.



MDI hopes to raise money by selling hundreds of franchises to investors who will be licensed to produce and sell air cars regionally. Only the Nice plant will remain under direct MDI control.

At least 40 franchises have been sold in France, Spain, South Africa and New Zealand, company officials say. The money has helped develop prototypes, but it has not been enough to build production models something that has been delayed several times.

Vencat says the company has been trying to sell licenses in the United States, but MDI has not had any success, though he says there is some interest.

Jean-Pierre Maeder, the chief executive officer of ZevCat, a small company in San Francisco, says he is interested in becoming America's first distributor of air cars.

Maeder, a Swiss native with experience in factory production and alternative car technology, would like a franchise to build and sell MDI vehicles in Northern California. He says he needs about $20 million to do it.

But capital has been hard to come by. A few years ago, Maeder's company made a public offering of 250,000 shares of stock at $2 a share to raise money for an MDI license. There were no takers.

"It's a Catch-22 situation," Maeder said. "Investors want to see the product and drive it. They think it's too good to be true. But there are no production models here yet."

Vencat estimates that the company needs an additional $5 million to $10 million to start producing cars in Nice and to meet vehicle requirements in MDI's franchise areas.

Company officials say they are optimistic the car will sell if they can only get it into production. There is a surging demand, they say, for more eco-friendly transportation, such as electric cars and hybrid vehicles that combine electric motors with internal combustion engines.

"Once we have the cars out there, we have won the battle," Vencat said. "For now, we are just surviving."