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An Ultra-Cheap Compressed Air Car Moves Closer To Reality

Electric cars taking too long? There might soon be a new way to power your car gas-free, brought to you by the people behind the world’s cheapest car.

Could this Tata Nano run on air instead of gas?

Just in case the electric vehicle revolution never really talks off, India’s Tata Motors is working on what sounds like an even better solution to the world’s clean vehicle quandary: cars that run on compressed air.

Tata—a company that you may recognize from its work on one of the world’s cheapest cars—has been working on a compressed air-powered vehicle for years. It’s not the easiest thing to do, apparently; Tata originally planned to release a compressed air vehicle two years ago. When that didn’t happen, the idea mostly faded from the public imagination—but not from Tata’s to-do list.

An MDI compressed air concept vehicle.

The company released a statement last month saying that it successfully completed a proof of concept for the vehicle. Now it’s working on the next step along with Motor Development International (the company that created the compressed air motor technology), where "the two companies are working together to complete detailed development of the technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years."

As with any vehicle technology, there are problems with compressed air. In 2010, Popular Mechanics published an article detailing some of them. The energy that compresses air in the car tanks comes from—you guessed it—the power grid. In India (and many other countries and U.S. states), where the grid is run largely on coal, that means the compressed air car is really a coal-powered one, just like most electric.

In any case, it’s hard to say when "the coming years" will arrive, but it’s not as if Tata is some fly-by-night company. If it says that a compressed car is coming, it probably is. No word on pricing, but MDI’s MiniFlowAir concept, which offers a 60-mile range on pure compressed air and 550 miles operating as a hybrid, could retail anywhere from $4,523 to $6,361.

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