Peugeot has revealed plans to begin selling the first air powered car next year.
Based on a Peugeot 208, it will combine a normal engine with a radical new system that runs on compressed air.
The firm says the car could reduce petrol bills by 80% when driven in cities.
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.
The Peugeot company was founded in 1810 and the family still has a controlling stake. Thierry Peugeot drafted in Varin – widely hailed in the UK for rescuing Corus, the former British Steel, from the brink of ruin – in 2009.
Varin’s attempts to revive the marque have been hit by the euro meltdown and militant French unions.
Worldwide sales for 2012 were down 8.8per cent to 2.82m.
The company has been hindered in efforts to improve its performance by France’s rigid labour laws. It has also been plagued by violent industrial action at its Aulnay plant near Paris which is due to close next year with the loss of thousands of jobs.
It is embroiled in controversy with rival European car makers over a French state guarantee given to its financing arm last year.
Explore the technology behind the new Hybrid Air