Ethan Tucker believes the future of motor vehicles is his Air Pod, a car powered by compressed air. Tucker's company, Zero Pollution Motors, is the USA “Dealer – Manufacturer – Partner" of Luxembourg-based MDI (Motor Development International), the company that developed the compressed air engine that powers the Air Pod. Tucker is taking deposits for Air Pods on the Zero Pollution Motors website right now; he's hoping a Shark will come along for the ride when he pitches the company, along with legendary recording artist Pat Boone, in Shark Tank episode 626.
Tucker plans on building “micro-factories” in the USA; expansion is limited only by the number of factories he can build.. Each micro factory will build and sell the Air Pod on a regional basis, eliminating the big distribution costs associated with centralized manufacturing. Hawaii is the first USA location, but consumers can ship the Air Pod anywhere on their own dime.
At around $10,000, the Air Pod is affordable for a new vehicle. It's designed for urban areas because the compressed air engine doesn't have “long-haul capacity.” The beauty of the Air Pod is it uses no carbon based fuels – other than electricity to compress the air – so it's a zero emissions vehicle. The ultimate efficiency and “green-ness” is determined by the source of electricity: a coal-fired electric generation plant puts more emissions into the atmosphere than a wind or solar plant. Unlike the more well-known Telsa electric vehicles, there are no batteries to dispose of when they lose their storage life or when the vehicle is totaled.
Each Air Pod seats from 2-4 adults, depending on the model. The range is about 120 miles and the speed tops out at 50 MPH. Like LPG powered vehicles, you need to “fill” the car at special compressed air dispensing stations. Because of the high pressure needed to “fuel” the vehicle, regular air pumps won't fit the bill. Hawaii is a good place to start producing and marketing the vehicles because of its small size and climate. The compressed air engines produce water vapor which will freeze up in colder climates. A heat exchanger keeps the compressed air warm, but the freezing hazard in extreme cold climates is a real drawback.
In an era where fossil fuel extraction poses environmental and political risks, the chase to find alternative fuels for vehicles has begun. Whether a compressed air car can win that race remains to be seen, but the concept is intriguing. If the Air Pod proves viable in Hawaii, we could see them everywhere before long.
My Take on the Air Pod
I think this is a very cool vehicle. It's perfect for city driving or in isolated locations where transporting traditional fossil fuels is expensive (like Hawaii). The relative simplicity of the power plant makes maintenance easier, too: there's no need for spark plugs, mufflers, cooling systems, starter motors etc.
The Air Pod is small, but a green vehicle will likely never seat 6. I think it would be a great second car for our family; we could have one car for road trips and an Air Pod for tooling around town. I hope they start making them everywhere so we can stop dumping pollutants into the environment. I'd also like to see the technology put into other applications, too: lawn mowers, tractors, motorcycles, and anything that runs on an engine could be run on compressed air. I am all in on Zero Pollution Motors.
Will Sharks see Green in the Air?
The Sharks will think the Air Pod is cool. The design and technology are appealing to just about anyone, but the Sharks will focus on the business. Manufacturing motor vehicles is a tough business, riddled with regulatory hurdles. Even if the Hawaii factory is up and running, further expansion is expensive because micro factories need real estate and cash to build out the physical plant, and that's before one Air Pod gets built and sold. It may be “too soon” for the Sharks, they'll want to see a profitable factory before they part with their cash.
There are other players building compressed air car prototypes, too – most notably Honda Motors. A big company like Honda has more resources for producing and selling compressed air cars than a start-up. That said, Zero Pollution Motors has the advantage of being first to market and its small size allows it to adjust quicker than a big company. Still, the Sharks will want a bit more proof of concept for such a bold venture, so I don't think any of them will go for it.
The possible exception is Mark Cuban. He's a BILLIONAIRE and can take a flyer on new and unproven technology if he believes in the product and the people behind it. If he sees a glimmer of opportunity and he can get enough skin in the game, he may invest. I don't think any of the other Sharks are in; if Cuban doesn't invest, Zero Pollution Motors will leave the Tank with zero funding.