Are Air Cars Really An Option, Or The Next Alt-Fuel Joke?

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Airpod compressed-air cars, 2009

Airpod compressed-air cars, 2009

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Remember when electric cars were considered a bit of a joke?

With talented options like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and others currently on sale, it's easy to forget that a few decades ago, their image was very different.

No style, no performance, no range--electric cars conjured images of glorified golf carts.

You can draw your own opinions on the unusual styling of Indian automaker Tata's Airpod concept (via The Verge), but it's under the skin where the real questions lie. Powered by compressed air, the Airpod would seem to be an answer to all our problems.

Except it isn't, really.

Compressed air can be made to work as a method of propulsion, but it requires too many compromises--for now, at least--in order to make a road vehicle that runs on air.

Light weight is an absolute requirement, and that doesn't just mean "lighter than most cars", but lightness at the expense of most other things. The Airpod is a unique piece of product design but even those used to Smart ForTwos and Renault Twizys might shy away from something that looks so vulnerable.

Speed isn't really an option either, with a top speed of between 28-43 mph. And although the car is built on the premise of using compressed air to run, one of the running options suggested is to use an electric motor to compress air while you're driving along. Get to that stage, and you might wonder if it makes more sense to use that motor to power the vehicle in the first place...

Tata still has no solid production plans yet, nor do any of the other companies working on air cars. There are clearly problems that need addressing, but will there ever be an air car that's a practical enough proposition to tempt people away from electric cars of the future?

It doesn't seem likely--leading us to believe that air cars will be the next big green joke.

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