MDI have been working on their air-powered engine for years now, and Edmunds Inside Line were lucky enough to take the 2010 AIRPod prototype for a spin. Distinctively designed, the AIRPod throws out internal combustion in favor of running from compressed-air, a full tank of which – refilled in just two minutes with the right infrastructure – is good for 90-125 miles with a single occupant.
Air compressed to 2,900psi sits in carbon-fiber tanks behind and underneath the driver, while steering is managed by a joystick and acceleration/braking by regular pedals. While the bubble-car design might suggest it can only accommodate one, in fact there’s a rear-facing bench in the back that’s enough for up to three to catch a ride. Maximum speed for the prototype is 30mph, but the commercial model – expected to go into production by the end of 2009 – will reach 50mph.
After climbing in through the lift-up front hatch, the driving experience is “like a hyperactive Jack Russell terrier” with dire acceleration made up for thanks to a tiny turning circle and nimble steering. Happily the production model will have softer suspension, as the prototype is unpleasantly bouncy, and hopefully some way of cooling things down inside as the expansive glass and lack of air-conditioning make for quite the mobile sauna.
Still, it’s set to reach France by the end of the year, priced at €6,000 ($8,380) which will be reduced by half thanks to eco-friendly subsidies. MDI are also working on a dual-power version, which will use the air engine together with a tiny “supercharger” which heats the air and thus boosts performance.