Innovation is at the core of everything Esurance does. From our seamless online and mobile experience to our smart tools, we work hard to take the hassle out of insurance. So when we learn about smart, new technology that’s changing the modern world, we want to share it with you.

Enter the AIRPod, a compressed-air vehicle from Zero Pollution Motors.

We all know carbon emissions are a growing issue, and companies around the world are taking some innovative approaches to tackle the problem. We’ve seen electric cars, and we’ve heard of hydrogen fuel cells. But what about a car that runs on the very same air we breathe?

The principle is simple enough: much like what happens when you let go of an inflated balloon, the AIRPod is propelled by the release of air. And Zero Pollution Motors is also rethinking production and distribution, hoping to change a system that’s been in place for over a century.

Put succinctly, AIRPod plans to reinvent the wheel. CEO Shiva Vencat filled us in on the company’s vision for the future.

What was the inspiration behind the air-powered car?

The idea came from Guy Negre, who worked on Formula One engines. Formula One engines always start with some compressed air before the gasoline takes over. So our engineer thought, Why not use compressed air all the way?

What are some of the biggest challenges AIRPod has faced?

I would say the biggest challenge has been financing and support from governments. And support, in general. When you come into an industry that is mature and well established, it frightens a lot of people. At the same time, you endanger the livelihood of a lot of businesses: the oil industry, the car industry, even the government.

Nowadays, things have changed because there is an issue with emissions and with pollution. A lot of cities want fewer carbon dioxide emissions. But 20 years ago, when we started, we were not very welcomed, to say the least.

The idea of using anything that wasn’t a fossil fuel probably sounded like madness.

It was more about people who were not keen on changing their way of life. Because not only did we design a new technology, but we designed a new way of producing it.

AIRPod has some really interesting ideas about infrastructure.

It’s more about the way cars are produced. If you look at how cars are manufactured, it hasn’t changed since 1913. It’s still a plant that costs a lot of money.

But today, to build a plant that makes 250,000 cars, you need a billion dollars. And with that comes a number of inefficiencies. Like shipping the cars to the market. Like creating a network of dealers.

What we have done with the compressed-air car is changing all of that. The idea is to build smaller factories that will manufacture 5,000 cars a year. It will be localized, focused on a local market, so you wouldn’t have to ship them and create more pollution. And you also eliminate the dealership business model.

So it’s more cost-effective.

It’s more cost-effective, but with an underlying advantage, which is bringing efficiency to a very inefficient industry.

How do you see AIRPod becoming integrated into the system we have now?

I think, funny enough, with what’s happening in the driverless space, the AIRPod would be perfect. It’d be perfect for that kind of development because not only are we cheaper than an electric car, but we also have no problem with a charging issue. You can put these cars anywhere you want. You don’t need to put these at a rack to charge.

Do you need to replace the tank when you need more air?

No. What you do is you have compressed-air stations, like at a gas station. You need compressed air? You go to a gas station and you can fill it. It’s not the air that you have today because it’s more compressed than that. But the model is that any gas station could be a compressed-air station. All you need is electricity.

Is it expensive?

It’s not very expensive. Unlike an electric fast-charger, which is north of a million dollars each time it’s installed.

What channels have you considered for distribution?

[Indian company] Tata Motors bought the rights for India, and MDI [a French company] has done a prototype of an engine that will be adapted on the Nano. Have you heard of the Nano?

I haven’t, actually.

The Nano is a small car designed by Tata motors in India. What we have done is taken the Nano and adapted our engine to it.

India might be a good proving ground.

Yeah. Because when we compare our technology to electric, for example, it’s a lot less expensive and it has fewer issues. The battery is also a big issue and AIRPods don’t have batteries. In fact, compressed air is our energy storage. This is the medium we use to install the air.

Who would you be marketing the AIRPod toward?

Since people are not used to compressed air to fuel the car, we have a plan to launch rental car services, a short-term rental car service. And once we do that, people would be able to test the car and then potentially buy the car. But in the meantime, we would have created a market by just renting the vehicles. That’s the idea.

Sounds like a smart marketing tool.

And, you know, we have a whole business plan on it. We plan to rent this car for like $8 an hour. Which is a lot cheaper than some of the short-term rentals you get in places like Paris. Paris has short-term rental car services that require a subscription and then charge €5 for a half hour. Even if you take euros to dollars at face value — in other words, if you convert it one to one — we will be much cheaper than the electric car.

Was AIRPod brought about as part of an environmental mission?

Definitely. But apart from the environmental aspect, we are changing the whole way that the car industry functions. So, the change is not only environmental, but it’s also social — there are a lot of aspects to it. To answer your question, yes it’s about the environment, but not only the environment.

In what way is AIRPod different from an electric car?

Well, let me tell you a fundamental difference. When you take an electric car, it takes 4 or 5 hours to charge. When you take a compressed-air car, you fill the tank in a few minutes. So what you have here is a car that offers the same convenience as a gas car. But without the pollution.

And that’s what everyone is asking for.

Exactly. Although they don’t say it, per se. But when you ask people, “Why don’t you buy an electric car?” They often say, “Well, you know, I am afraid of the range. I am afraid to end up on the road without finding any place to charge it, and if I charge it, it’s going to take me 4 hours.”

Now, admittedly, some companies have come up with a solution with a high-speed charger, but they are expensive — very, very expensive. So that’s the major difference.

What I understand about electric cars is that their environmental impact is still problematic.

To get rid of the batteries? You bet. And moreover, you’re switching, if you will, the issue of supply from the Middle East (where most of the oil comes from) to places like China (where most of the components for the battery come from). Either way, you’re still going to be subject to other countries.

So, with AIRPod, everything is made locally?

Everything is made locally.

So, potentially, every major city could have —

Every major city could have their own plant.

It’s a smart idea.


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about Chris

Chris has written everything from fiction manuscripts to pretend newsletters about pirates. He's even edited numerous volumes of work written entirely by kids. As a freelance writer at Esurance, he strives to bring out the whimsy and heart of insurance. Outside of Esurance, Chris is an audiophile, visual artist, and explorer of late-night taquerias.