This Car Runs On Empty

A new invention offers a solution to the environmental and economic problems of our increasing dependence on automobiles. At the 2002 Paris Motor Show, French engineers unveiled the CityCAT, a commercially viable, nonpolluting car that runs on air.

The technology is simple: The car compresses outside air to a pressure about 150 times what you would put into car tires, heating the air in the process. The air is stored in the car's air tank and injected into the engine when needed, forcing the piston into motion. The car comes with a compressor that can refill air tanks at home in about four hours, or you could refill in about three minutes at a compressed-air station.

What this new car lacks in size, it makes up for in value. A full tank of air costs roughly $1.50, and because the vehicle is combustion-free and runs cold, service intervals come only every 30,000 miles. With a maximum speed of 65 mph and a range of roughly 120 miles between fill-ups, this is an ideal commuter car.

Whether the car passes inspections, stimulates a new refueling infrastructure, and takes off with consumers remains to be seen, but the Nice, France-based maker, MDI Enterprises, is optimistic. It expects four models to become available in 2003 at a competitive price of between $12,000 and $14,000.

—C.D.