Would you buy a car that runs on air? Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec is willing to bet $5 million that you will.
Last week, Zero Pollution Motors introduced Herjavec and his fellow investors to the AIRPod, a 617-pound car that runs on compressed air.
The car works like so: Tanks inside the car are full of cold air compressed to 300 times atmospheric pressure. This air is heated and then fed into the cylinders of a piston engine. However, the engine requires no combustion, and so no air pollution is emitted. The AIRPod requires just four hours to the charge and can be refilled with air in three minutes from a simple gas station air compressor (the ones you use to refill your tires).
On the show, representatives from ZPM asked the Shark Tank investors for $5 million in return for a 50 percent equity in the company. With that money, ZPM hopes to build a small pilot assembly plant in Hawaii that will manufacture 80 percent of the vehicles and sell them from the same location.
The pitch impressed investor Robert Herjavec enough to invest the full amount, provided that ZPM can get the rights to manufacture and sell AIRPods throughout the continental U.S. Herjavec himself is a car enthusisast and race car driver, and has competed in the Ferrari Challenge North America Series for several years.
How Does the AIRPod Stack Up Against the Competition?
In terms of the clean-auto market, the AIRPod’s strength is in its convenience and its affordability. It’s no Tesla Roadster, which can go up to 400 miles on an electric charge, and it’s no Toyota Mirai, the first commercially-available hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Both of these cars are competing with traditional gas- and diesel-powered cars.
The AIRPod, by comparison, is a more modest machine. Its top speed is 50 miles per hour, the car is a little over 600 pounds and it has an average urban range of 80 miles. However, the car literally runs on air and refilling its tank costs approximately two dollars. And while you wouldn’t want to get hit in this car (its composite fiberglass/polyurethane shell is strong, but hardly impenetrable), the air tank poses no danger in the event of an accident. According to ZPM’s website, the tank is constructed of a Type IV thermoplastic liner with carbon fiber wiring, which is not explosive. The tank can snap but it won’t blow up.
And then of course there’s the $10,000 price tag, perhaps the car’s most appealing attribute.
But What Is It Good For?
There’s a reason ZPM wants to start AIRPod production in Hawaii, and that has everything to do with its isolated location. With Herjavec’s $5 million investment, ZPM hopes to offer a viable alternative for commuters that are already limited in their range and whom already pay the highest gas prices in the country.
Petrol has to be shipped to the island (located smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean), which puts it at a premium. According to USA Today, Hawaiians were paying an average of $4.40 per gallon of gasoline in 2013. Their gas tax is also the fourth highest in the country, at 49.1 cents per gallon, and because 70 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from petroleum, Hawaiians pay more than double the electricity rates of anywhere else in the country.
Considering all those factors, the AIRPod, even with its limited range, sounds like a pretty good deal.
There’s also the pollution to consider. Hawaii’s overstuffed with cars and therefore overstuffed with pollution. According to ZPM, not only does the AIRPod run on air, it actually emits cleaner air than it takes in due to its filtration system.
So while you wouldn’t necessarily take the car on a cross-country roadtrip, it might be perfect for short commutes throughout town. ZPM has stated that they intend to roll out larger, faster models in the future.