If you have ever grimaced at your petrol bill and dreamed of a car that runs on fresh air, your prayers are about to be answered.
French car giant PSA Peugeot Citroen believes it can put an air-powered vehicle on the road by 2016.
Its scientists say it will knock 45 per cent off fuel bills for an average motorist. And when driving in towns and cities costs could be slashed by as much as 80 per cent because the car will be running on air for four-fifths of the time.
The system works by using a normal internal combustion engine, special hydraulics and an adapted gearbox along with compressed air cylinders that store and release energy. This enables it to run on petrol or air, or a combination of the two.
Air power would be used solely for city use, automatically activated below 43mph and available for ‘60 to 80 per cent of the time in city driving’. By 2020, the cars could be achieving an average of 117 miles a gallon, the company predicts.
The air compression system can re-use all the energy normally lost when slowing down and braking. The motor and a pump are in the engine bay, fed by a compressed air tank underneath the car, running parallel to the exhaust.
The revolutionary new ‘Hybrid Air’ engine system – the first to combine petrol with compressed air – is a breakthrough for hybrid cars because expensive batteries will no longer be needed.
Cars fitted with Hybrid Air will be about £1,000 cheaper to buy than current hybrid models.
For more than two years, 100 elite scientists and engineers have been working on the air-powered car in top-secret conditions at Peugeot’s research and development centre at Velizy, just south of Paris.
Hybrid Air is the centrepiece of Peugeot chief executive Philippe Varin’s efforts to restore the fortunes of the historic car maker.
The revolutionary system will be able to be installed on any normal family car without altering its external shape or size or reducing the boot size, provided the spare wheel is not stored there. From the outside, an air-powered car will look identical to a conventional vehicle.
A spokesman said: ‘We are not talking about weird and wacky machines. These are going to be in everyday cars.’
Peugeot, which unveiled its prototype yesterday, envisages introducing it in smaller models such as the 208 at first.
The company said that as well as being greener and cheaper to run, the air system created no extra dangers in a collision.
Motorists never run the risk of running out of compressed air late at night on a deserted country road because the car will be fitted with a sophisticated artificial brain that ensures it replenishes itself automatically.
The air compresses and decompresses of its own accord as the car speeds up and slows down.
As well as the revolutionary air car, Peugeot also unveiled plans for new larger cars such as the Peugeot 508 and the Citroen C5 that will save 20per cent on fuel bill through the use of new materials such as lightweight steel and aluminuim composites.
They will also deploy other innovations such as electric power steering instead of hydraulic and new tyres with reduced drag.
These will be introduced from this year. The first cars to feature them will be the replacement for the Citroen C4 Picasso produced at the company’s plant in Vigo Spain and the replacement for the 308 built at Sochaux in France.
The audience gasped as the covers were removed from the prototypes at a packed ceremony attended by French politicians and business leaders.
The innovations are crucial to chairman Philippe Varin’s efforts to revamp the ailing automaker that has suffered badly due to the crisis in southern european markets including Italy, Portugal and Spain that account for a large chunk of its sales.
The economy in its home market of France has also been hard hit in the single currency crisis. It has lost its triple-A credit rating and socialist President Francois Hollande has earned international ridicule through his plans for a supertax on the wealthy.