And that’s a good thing! Today’s automotive world is obsessed with hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars. All of them have one glaring weakness – the batteries they need to work are heavy and expensive. They also contain lithium, a highly toxic substance that is dangerous to work with both in the manufacturing and in the disposal process. Last but not least, hybrids with batteries typically operate in the 300 volt range, which poses a potential danger to occupants and rescue workers.
The clever folks at Peugeot took a look at the typical hybrid drive train and envisioned a better way of doing things, one that does away with the weight and expense of batteries, is more environmentally friendly to produce and recycle and doesn’t have the same risk of electrocution. They decided to replace the battery with a cylinder of compressed air. Brilliant!
Like all hybrids, the Peugeot system uses a conventional internal combustion engine. The motor sometimes powers the drive train and sometimes operates a compressor. The system also recaptures some of the kinetic energy of the car under braking. Pressurized air is then stored in an onboard cylinder. At speeds above 40 mph, the engine does all the work. At lower speeds, the compressed air helps propel the car forward. And at low speeds, the car moves entirely by the power of compressed air.
The biggest benefit from all this is an automobile that equals or exceeds the fuel efficiency of a conventional hybrid at significantly less cost and with fewer environmental drawbacks. What’s not to like?
By thinking outside the battery, Peugeot has changed the rules of the hybrid game. There is little doubt that other manufacturers will adopt this technology for cars that are sold in the US. And that’s a very good thing for consumers and the environment.
Does this mean that Peugeot will soon be offering cars in America again? Probably not. Then again, if you could drive a new Peugeot RCZ sport coupe that got excellent fuel economy, wouldn’t you be tempted to buy one? I know I would.