Jaguar's owner developing a car that runs on compressed air

Hands holding a toy car

A car that runs on air. Really?

My parents probably weren't the only ones who said anything that sounds too good to be true probably is too good to be true.

In the case of the air car, they might have been wrong.

Rolling prototypes created by Luxembourg-based Motor Development International (MDI) are on the road.

India's Tata Motors, owner of Land Rover and Jaguar, also has been developing an air car, called the MiniCat.

Using MDI's compressed-air technology to drive the engine's pistons, the MiniCat is said to have a range of up to 200 miles and a top speed of over 60 miles per hour.

Furthermore, its air supply can be replenished in 3 or 4 minutes at special air docks at a gas station for about $2. A built-in compressor can be used to fill up an empty air tank in less than 4 hours using a 220-volt outlet.

As astonishing as MiniCat's compressed-air technology is its remarkably affordable price: an estimated $8,000.

As recently as a year ago, the United States was slated to get its own version of the air car via Tata Motors-backed Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM).

Even if ZPM is successful in bringing an air car here, its price would probably be higher than the MiniCat's price in India.

I doubt the MiniCat, with its fiberglass-stretched-over-tubular-frame construction, could meet U.S. government standards. Moreover, ZPM might want to boost its top speed to something closer to 100 miles per hour.

Making India's air car more crashworthy, adding federally mandated features like stability control and adding some sort of supplemental power plant to increase its speed capability could as much as double MiniCat's price.

How likely is it that we will actually be able to buy the MiniCat here? I'd say it's a fifty-fifty shot.

Tata's Web site doesn't mention the MiniCat, and ZPM's Web site is no longer active. My inquiries to Tata regarding MiniCat's status and the health of ZPM have gone unanswered.

Searching the Internet, I found articles on the MiniCat dating back to 2007. There were projections then that India would have it by 2009 and the U.S. would see its version as early as 2010.

Obviously, those expectations weren't met.

I'll continue investigating and keep you posted.

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