Tata air-powered car to see production?

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Tata Nano

The Tata Nano is billed as "the world's least expensive car." Image: Rajesh Babu/Flickr/CC BY-SA

As nations up their fuel efficiency standards and the car-buying public comes closer to accepting alternative-fuel vehicles, it seems only natural that an automaker would take the plunge and build a vehicle that runs on the cheapest, most plentiful resource available — air. India’s largest automaker, Tata Motors, says it is doing just that.

Air-driven taxi concept

Tata is known for its out-of-the-box thinking. It is best know as the maker of the the Tata Nano, the self-proclaimed “world’s least expensive car” that boasts 58 miles to the gallon. It sells for about $3,500 in the U.S. Tata has also made inroads into the alternative-fuel market with its downsized eMO EV. The Indian automaker even unveiled an air-driven taxi concept last year. Now it says it is dedicated to putting a compressed-air vehicle into production as soon as possible.

The air-propelled taxi concept used the drive train from a concept AIRpod made by the European company MDI. Tata has been collaborating with MDI since 2007, developing compressed air concepts. The Indian automaker boasted that its tiny concept vehicle can do 50 mph and has a range of 80 miles. Furthermore, it says the car can be reloaded with compressed air in about two minutes.

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Free refills in two minutes?

The automaker further claims that the infrastructure already exists to keep the vehicles powered up on the road. Nearly every gas station offers a compressed air machine for patron use, usually at no cost. When they do charge, it usually runs about a dollar a minute. So, based on Tata’s claims, it would take only $2 to fill up the car. Compare that to the $50 plus that most Americans are shelling out for fuel now. Plus, the air car would have zero emissions.

However, the savvy folk at Torque News pointed out some possible holes in Tata’s claims. According to the site’s Aaron Turpen, compressed air works well in small scale, but loses much of its efficiency when up-sized. Turpen says compressed air is only about 25 to 30 percent efficient.

Or maybe not

Turpen also points out that the Tata compressed air taxi concept used about 3,500 psi, which is considerably more dense than the air in your tires. Although the compressed air machine at your local gas station may power the car up, Turpen questions its ability to do so in only two minutes.

According to Turpen:

“The two-minute refill time is likely based on using an industrial air pump, used to fill heavy cylinders for manufacturing use. Those pumps are not cheap and renting or leasing pre-filled bottles would become expensive, fast.”


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