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Peugeot 2008 Hybrid Air: Will the air-powered car change the world?

Peugeot arrived relatively late to the hybrid party, but the French car maker appears to be making up for lost time – and then some. It has just unveiled a radical new hybrid technology known as the Peugeot 2008 Hybrid Air which, as the name suggests, is powered partly by the stuff humans breathe. Is it any good?

How does it work?

The new air-powered hybrid system consists of a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine and an ‘energy tank’ of compressed air and oil, both of which can power a car individually or in tandem. Any car equipped with the system will be able to run in several modes – petrol only, Air-only (ZEV) and Combination mode, which uses both petrol and air at once.

How can air power a car?

It’s all about pressure. The 2008 Hybrid Air system uses compressed air and oil inside an energy tank. When the air depressurises, it occupies an increasing amount of space, which pushes the oil. It’s the movement of this oil that supplies the energy to turn a hydraulic motor, which drives the wheels.

Clever, but how far can I drive on air alone?

Not very far. Obviously, the amount of air that can be stored inside the energy tank is finite. Air power is intended primarily to help the vehicle accelerate slowly from a standing start and to provide extra power and torque when accelerating. Once the system is out of puff, it can either be refilled on the move by the engine, which takes around ten seconds. Alternatively, it can also be refilled under braking or deceleration. Rather than applying the brakes, the car activates an accumulator, which slows the car using air resistance and refills the energy tank.

So I’ll still need petrol for my air-powered car?

Yes, but not much of it, apparently. Peugeot says it’s possible to drive a vehicle equipped with Hybrid Air technology in air-only mode up to 80 per cent of the time, with no fuel consumption when driving through urban areas.

How does it compare with a normal hybrid?

During tests, the system proved capable of 97.4mpg with CO2 emissions as low as 69g/km, though Peugeot hopes it’ll eventually be able to hit 140mpg. Current hybrids are rather less efficient, on paper. The Toyota Prius, for reference, achieves 72.4mpg and 89g/km from its 1.8-litre petrol engine and lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor.

Are there any drawbacks to air-powered cars?

We’ll have to wait and see. Performance is unlikely to be thrilling, but Peugeot reckons the system has the potential to become the ‘heart’ of its range across the world.

What cars will the 2008 Hybrid Air feature in?

Peugeot isn’t saying yet, but it’s hinted the technology may appear in cars and light commercial vehicles in the B and C segment. In other words small cars like the Peugeot 208 and slightly larger models such as the Peugoet 308 should get it first.

Where can I find out more?

The 2008 Hybrid Air system will go on show for the first time at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. We’ll bring you more details on this car and plenty of others as we get it.

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