The e.Volution, patented by Motor Development International, can be plugged into any electrical power source to fill it up and travels up to 200km (125 miles) for only $0.30 cents, with a maximum speed of 110 km/hr (176 mph), BBC News and Spanish daily El Mundo have reported. The prototype was unveiled at the recent Auto Africa Expo 2000 in Johannesburg, being touted by its creator, French engineer Guy Negre, as the first viable alternative to cars that run on conventional fuels.

The e.Volution, which resembles a small minibus, has a piston engine, powered by the release of compressed air which is stored in tanks, very similar to scuba diving tanks, attached to the underside of the car. The designers of e.Volution say it will be possible to merely plug the vehicle into any electrical power source to fill it up, taking up to four hours, but its manufacturers envisage owners installing their own air stations, where a fill up of 300 litres could take as little as three minutes.

The body of the vehicle weighs only 700kg, and the engine, a mere 35kg, meaning that the vehicle can theoretically be driven for up to 10 hours at an average speed of 80km/h (50 mph), making it, manufacturers say, ideal for urban use. It is expected to be competitively priced, at around the same price as a medium-sized saloon car.

Motor Development International has decided to sell franchises to local manufacturers to produce the car, and interest is reportedly already very high. The Mexican Government is said to have placed an order for 40,000 vehicles, primarily for use as taxis in the pollution-stricken capital, where they should be on the streets in February 2002. The first country to sell the e.Volution will be France, where two factories are reportedly in production and expect to release the first models this year. There are five factories planned for Mexico, as well as others in South Africa, Australia, the United States, Spain and Switzerland. Each factory will have the capacity to produce around 2,000 vehicles a year, reports said.

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