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Tata Motors once planned to make air-powered cars: What happened?

While the world is going gaga over electric cars and SUVs, there was a time when Tata Motors thought out of the box with its cute little Nano hatchback at the centre stage. No, we are not talking about the Tata Nano EV Concept showcased at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. Back in 2012, Tata Motors was developing an air-powered Tata Nano in collaboration with Motor Development International (MDI) of Luxembourg.

Tata Motors once planned to make air-powered cars: What happened?

In January 2007, Tata Motors entered into a license agreement with MDI for the production and sales of air-powered cars in India. Under this collaboration, both the companies developed the Tata OneCAT concept, a five-seater two-door micro-car. However, this car was prepared only for testing purposes, without the intent of outright production.

Tata was serious enough to post some information on the air-powered car tech on its website. You can still see the old page on air as fuel on the website.

The first production car on which Tata Motors tried this unique technology was the Nano. AT one point in time, Tata Motors also announced that it completed the first phase of the programme, while it was all set to enter the second phase soon. This car was said to be powered by compressed air stored in a large carbon fibre air tank, which was believed to power a small two-cylinder engine and return a range of 200 km in a full tank of compressed air.

All this was quite serious too. Several articles appeared in websites and auto magazines around the world about Tata-MDI plans. The Verge wrote about it, as did Jalopnik, who said that the air-power Nano might make electric cars look silly!

This entire technology was formulated by MDI, which claimed much lower or to be specific, almost negligible emissions compared to a conventional petrol engine, thanks to its pure air drive mode. Before using this technology with Tata Motors for the Nano, MID made cars like OneFlowAir, AirPod, CityFlowAir and MultiFlowAir, all of which were compact-sized cars and goods carrying vehicles.

What happened to the air-powered Tata Nano?

While Tata Motors had confirmed that the project entered into its second phase of testing, more than ten years have passed since the announcement. No further progress statements and updates were released by Tata Motors on the project, which indicates that the project of air-powered Tata Nano has died a silent death. In addition to this, the fact that the bodyshell of Tata Nano is no longer suitable for the new safety norms means that the project might have been scrapped altogether.

Our guess is that the cost of storing compressed air at high pressure turned out to be prohibitive, and not so much value for money when it comes to electric mobility. And the challenges involved in making a compressed air car in a crash or accident would have been pretty much insurmountable too.

If Tata Motors had come up with the air-powered Tata Nano, it would have been an even bigger revolution in comparison to the petrol-powered Nano, which made its debut as the world’s cheapest production car. However, unlike the regular Tata Nano, this air-powered Nano could have been a pricier proposition due to the expensive technology developed for it.

Shantonil Nag

Shantonil brings a refined blend of expertise and enthusiasm to motoring journalism at Cartoq.com. With a career spanning over 11 years, he anchors Cartoq's insightful car reviews and test drives. His journalistic journey began as a correspondent at Gaadi.com, where he honed his skills in content writing and scripting car reviews. Later, as Senior Editor for Autoportal.com, his expanded role included curating and structuring web content. At Cartoq.com, his expanded role includes assisting the video team to create high-quality car reviews. (Full bio)