If you’re looking for a hybrid with superior mileage per gallon, then compressed air may be your thing. PSA Peugeot Citroen says its new C3 VTi 82 hatchback—which it unveils at a motor show next month—will go 81 miles, in optimum conditions. That’s compared to the Toyota Prius’s roughly 45 mile performance. And there’s no need for expensive, and heavy, lithium batteries. The compressed air system provides power as well as storage: as with other hybrids, it recovers energy from a gasoline engine when you brake or slow down.
From the video, you can see that the Air Hybrid system works in three modes, depending on the neighborhood. Above 43 miles per hour, it uses a conventional engine. Around town, it goes on air alone. And then there’s a combined mode when you need more power at lower speeds. An electronic management unit switches modes automatically.
The idea of powering a car using compressed air isn’t particularly new—several companies have explored the technology. But PSA Peugeot Citroen is the first major one to go big on it, developing a drive-train it hopes to use across several models, including light commercial vans. The company hasn’t released prices yet, saying only that the vehicles will be "competitive both in European and international markets," but that is likely to be a major draw. Lithium batteries remain uncompetitively expensive.
As you might expect, PSA Peugeot Citroen makes a lot of the vehicle’s environmental credentials. It says the C3 VTi 82 will cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 45% in urban conditions, compared to a conventional vehicle with the same-sized engine. And by 2020, it hopes its Air Hybrid range will be getting more than 110 miles per gallon. If so, the French will be delivering more than air. And filling up your car will be a breeze.