Running on air -

Running on air

The AirPod car is cheaper than any subcompact and it gets better mileage than the Volt or Prius

Running on air

Anja Niedringhaus/AP

It may not have the sleek style of the Chevrolet Volt or the provenance of the Toyota Prius, but the new AirPod may have them both beat on enviro cred and price. The bug-like little three-seater, made by the Swiss company Catecar, runs on nothing but thin air. (Thin air that has been highly compressed by an electric motor, to be exact.) The car can go 200 km on a four-hour charge from a 240-volt outlet. The Volt, by comparison, only goes 64 km on a similar charge. Then it must also burn gas. Compared to mass-market hybrids and electrics, the AirPod is also astonishingly cheap. At $9,500, it will cost less than any Canadian subcompact on the market and is a fraction of the Volt’s $41,000 price tag.

The AirPod is the culmination of more than a decade of engineering and testing, but European regulators have only recently given it a green light for safety and roadworthiness. Catecar says the first 150 AirPods will roll off a Swiss assembly line in March, and a new plant will be able to produce 700 per month by 2012.

The AirPod is two metres long, with two seats in the front and a third seat facing backward. The main flaw is that the engine maxes out at 70 km per hour, which means the vehicle is only good for short trips that don’t involve a highway. It’s unclear how much weight the AirPod will be able to carry, but it has been tested by Dutch airline KLM, whose employees used it to ferry small items around Schiphol Airport. Catecar has focused its initial marketing on those who buy fleets of small vehicles. Catecar says it’s in discussions to sell to municipalities and the Geneva airport.

The company only owns the rights to the Swiss and Lichtenstein markets, for now. (The air compression technology is licensed from the French company MDI.) However, Tata Motors, the largest car manufacturer in India (and owner of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands), has already claimed the technology for India. There are no plans yet to offer the AirPod in Canada, but MDI has already begun testing a version of the car in snowy conditions.


Running on air

  1. Thank you for this well written article. May I remark however that there is only one seat in the front of the Airpod, and two in the back, facing backward. Also steering is performed by a joystick in stead of a steering wheel and it has no doors. The entrance is through the wind shield for the driver and through the rear window for the passengers. Have a look at my website, that gives all information, pictures, videos and the latest news on compressed air cars.

  2. How does it come that journalists all over the world fall into this MDI-trap, and this for at last since 1995, always with the same story…A minimal research would have shown that this concept is not working, at least not the way MDI states it.
    Thermodynamics can't be betrayed, and the alleged performances of these cars are completely made of hot air !
    Compressed air is the most ineffective and most expensive way to store and use energy. Ask your local physicist .

    • I see this AirScam pop up every few months whenever an autoshow rolls into town. I'm also surprised that they are allowed to get away with their unbeleivable claims as well. Honestly though, if someone is stupid enough to invest in this scam, like TATA, they deseve to lose every single penny they put into it. The future lawsuits against the Negres and MDI will be interesting to hear about though.