Saturday, March 24, 2007

e.Volution - the Air Car in a previous Avatar

Even as the Tata-MDI deal to build the air car in India is creating waves, there is a feeling of "been-there-done-that" already. For it was back in 2000 that the MDI technology first made a splash as the e.Volution at the Auto Expo Africa 2000 in Johannesburg.

The e.Volution made waves back in 2000. Zero Pollution Motors was to manufacture the car in South Africa. "There are currently two factories in France, with the first models expected on the streets later this year. There are five factories planned for Mexico and Spain, with three in Australia. But South Africa will be the second country after France to open a factory and begin production." (BBC)

The e.Volution also won an entry on the popular tech site

Interestingly the car again made a splash 2 years later. By this time, going by the original schedule it should already have been on the streets of Mexico City where the govt had already placed an order for 40,000 air cars, while about 10 factories in 6 countries were churning out thousands of air cars. This time the splash it was at the Paris motor show in 2002, in the country where it was developed in the first place. The only change was that a refuel was to cost 1.5 Euros as against just 30 cents in the case of the e.Volution.

It does not look like any of the plans have materialized. Despite the best efforts of MDI, the car does not seem to have become commercial yet. The website for Zero Pollution Motors shows a site under construction, though I did find this listing for an office in New York City (which also mentions the same under-construction website).

So what could be different with the new deal?

It seems to me that the Tata's might just be the first group with serious experience in the automobile sector that is tying up with MDI. Notice too that the Tata's have not made any big noise about the deal, indicating probably that they are very cautious (and likely serious) about it too.

Also MDI seems to have made some progress since 2000 and 2002. They now have 4 models against just the van that was displayed in SA. The car touts an amazing array of electronic gadgets. Interestingly the price seems to have come down from the $10,000 mentioned in 2000 to just about $7,000 that media reports suggest now. Prius, Tesla and Volt have also made alternate energy vehicles very cool in a world serious about fighting the oil addiction.

All these factors could on the one hand indicate that the time for the air car has finally come. On the other, it might just reinforce its status as vaporware.

Credit: Riot for pointing to the e.Volution, via his insightful comment on the original post.