Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tatas bringing the Air Car to India

Imagine a car that is as green as an electric car, has more than twice the range, and re-charges in half the time. That is the promise of the air car, and the Tatas hope to manufacture and launch such a car in India soon.

Last month Tata Motors signed a deal with Moteur Developpment International (MDI), a small family owned firm based in France, for application of MDI's compressed air engines technology to cars for the market in India. Gizmag has exciting details including on the Tatas' plans to manufacture and launch these cars in India - though not a timeline yet.

What's New?

The MDI-Tata car will run on compressed air. The technology has been around for a while, though their application in automobiles is relatively new (no such car is commercially available yet). Since electricity would be used to compress the air, the cars essentially run on electricity - so they are almost as clean as electric cars. Where they score above electric cars are that the energy is not stored in batteries but in a rather simple tank, hence they are cheaper and have a greater range.

The Engine
The core of the compressed air engine would be a single-piston engine powered by the expansion of compressed air. MDI's single fuel engines will run purely on compressed air and cars with these engines will top out at 50 kph . The dual fuel engine cars will have the capability to switch to a combustible fuel at speeds above 50 kph, and when on this mode the compressed air tank gets refueled too.

Fuel and Efficiency
The compressed air can be refilled at special facilities at petrol stations in quick time (2-3 minutes), or in 3-4 fours plugging in the car's electric compressor to the mains. So the car will essentially run on electric power converted into compressed air. Once filled up, the car should run for 200 to 300 kms. Each commercial refill should cost about $3 (or Rs 135). Recharging from the mains at home however should cost far less.

Body and Advanced Features
"The MiniC.A.T is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis that is glued not welded and a body of fibreglass. The heart of the electronic and communication system on the car is a computer offering an array of information reports that extends well beyond the speed of the vehicle, and is built to integrate with external systems and almost anything you could dream of, starting with voice recognition, internet connectivity, GSM telephone connectivity, a GPS guidance system, fleet management systems, emergency systems, and of course every form of digital entertainment. The engine is fascinating, as is and the revolutionary electrical system that uses just one cable and so is the vehicle’s wireless control system. Microcontrollers are used in every device in the car, so one tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, indicators etc

"There are no keys – just an access card which can be read by the car from your pocket." >>link

The Tata angle

Tata Motors is expected to support further development and refinement of the technology, especially for the Indian market. Tata might setup a plant in India to manufacture 3000 cars initially. In a 3 shift operation that number could go up to 9000 cars annually. The plant might manufacture one or more of the four current MDI models - car, taxi (5 passengers), pick-up and van.

The Outlook

The Gizmag article is generating a lot of interest. At the time of posting it is approaching a 1000 diggs which is huge, though skepticism remains, as in slashdot categorizing it as potential vaporware.

But the scenario seems optimum - the car should cost under Rs 300,000, and with the great mileage and advanced electronic features to boot it should give tough competition to the Reva to hold on to the title of India's #1 clean car. May all the clean cars win!