Monday, May 2, 2011

An Air-Powered Car by 2009? Don’t Hold Your Breath

A small French company recently announced that it has produced an air-powered car that will be ready for sale within the year.

It is called the OneCAT, developed by Moteur Development International. There are no photos of the OneCAT on the M.D.I. Web site, but a design sketch shows a convertible that looks like a cross between a VW Beetle and a Citroën 2CV. Weighing only 770 pounds, it will cost roughly $5,000, and will be built in India by Tata Motors.

According to

The car will be driven by compressed air stored in carbon-fibre tanks.

The tanks, built into the chassis, can be filled with air from a compressor in just three minutes — much quicker than a battery car.

Alternatively, it can be plugged into the mains for four hours and an on-board compressor will do the job.

For long journeys the compressed air driving the pistons can be boosted by a fuel burner which heats the air so it expands and increases the pressure on the pistons. The burner will use all kinds of liquid fuel.

The designers say on long journeys the car will do the equivalent of 120 m.p.g. In town, running on air, it will be cheaper than that.

The OneCAT would produce zero emissions.

Founded by Guy Nègre, an engineer and inventor, M.D.I. has been working on its compressed-air engine for more than a decade. And according to the BBC, Mr. Nègre has been promising a breakthrough for nearly as long.

Many articles refer to Mr. Nègre as a former Formula One engineer, probably because his biography on the M.D.I. Web site lists among his many achievements the “development of a 3.5-liter W-12 engine for Formula One toward the end of the ’80s.” But that claim also seems a bit specious.

There haven’t been many W-12 engines in Formula One. In fact, I could find reference to only one (on It was used by the very short-lived Life Team in 1989 and designed by an Italian engineer named Franco Rocchi, who also built engines for Ferrari.

The only information I could find about Mr. Nègre and his W-12 engine was on According to an entry on the AGS Formula One team, Mr. Nègre developed the engine on his own and was not officially affiliated with any team:

This strange MGN (Moteurs Guy Nègre) machine saw the light of day in late 1988 and was tested in an old AGS chassis in the summer of 1989. It was clear that AGS was not related to these tests; they were completely private attempts by Nègre. The engine never found its way to a Grand Prix but it was announced to be used in a 1990 Le Mans car called Norma M6. That car was presented but never raced.

Right now, Tata is the only major automaker licensed to sell M.D.I. vehicles. For the rest of the world, Mr. Nègre is counting on individual entrepreneurs to set up factories and find investors. He also expects each factory licensee to sell its own cars.

The U.S. licensee is a startup called Zero Pollution Motors, based in New Paltz, N.Y.

According to Popular Mechanics, Z.P.M. plans on delivering M.D.I.’s air-powered cars by the end of 2009 or early 2010:

Company officials want to make the first air-powered car to hit U.S. roads a $17,800, 75-hp equivalent, six-seat modified version of MDI’s CityCAT that, thanks to an even more radical engine, is said to travel as far as 1,000 miles at up to 96 m.p.h. with each tiny fill-up.

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