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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
The car that runs on air
By Carolyn Dempster in Johannesburg
Urban transport could soon be revolutionised with the launching this week in South Africa of a prototype new car which designers say runs on air.
It is being predicted that the e.Volution will be able to travel up to 200km (120 miles) for only 30 US cents.
The e.Volution prototype will be unveiled at Auto Africa Expo 2000 in Johannesburg this week and is being touted as the first viable alternative to cars that run on conventional fuels.
Researchers have been working for many years to produce 'eco-friendly' cars, but so far these attempts have not been successful. Some models already in development use hydrogen as a fuel.
It is expected to sell in South Africa for about R74,000 ($10,000) which is on a par with a medium-sized saloon car.
Helen Brown who heads "Zero Pollution Motors", the company which has the rights to manufacture the car locally, says it will be ideal for urban transport.
The piston engine is powered by the release of compressed air which is stored in tanks, very similar to scuba diving tanks, attached to the underside of the car.
The body of the vehicle weighs only 700kg, and the engine itself is a mere 35kg.
This means that the vehicle can theoretically be driven for up to 10 hours in an urban environment at an average speed of 80km/h.
The designers of e.Volution say it will be possible to merely plug the vehicle into any electrical power source to fill it up. That could take up to four hours.
If the e.Volution lives up to all the hype, it could offer a serious challenge to the current motor vehicle market.
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.
Helen Brown says her company aims to set up a production line in the province of Gauteng by next year, with the first cars off the production line and onto the salesroom floor by early 2002.
" It's really an anti-globalisation production idea" she said.
"The aim of the project is to cut costs and create jobs locally, serving the consumer market directly."
With petrol and diesel prices going up, and the price of oil subject to fluctuations, the Middle East crisis and occasional shortfalls, motorists might be only too happy to "go green" if it means a lifetime saving on fuel costs.
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