The green troika of the Citroen Hybrid Air

The Geneva Motor show is a week away, and the automakers are trickling out news of their wares to drum up excitement from press and the public.

While most news on green vehicles is fairly ho-hum (e.g., Audi A3 e-tron, Volkswagen Golf diesel, Volkswagen XL1 plug-in hybrid), French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen blew fresh air on blasé reporters with plans to debut a hybrid-air concept.

A what?

The Citroen Hybrid Air is a subcompact car concept that utilizes a gas engine, electric motor, and compressed air as its powertrain. There is no battery coupled to the electric motor like most full-hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Prius Plug-In, or Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Instead, the compressed air is used to turn the wheels via a hydraulic motor.

The Citroen Hybrid Air concept has three engine modes: Air mode, Gasoline Mode, and Combined Mode. In Air mode, the concept is propelled up to 43 mph strictly by the compressed air and hydraulic system. The automaker envisions its use primarily in urban settings similar to the “pure electric” mode in many full-hybrids today.

Gasoline Mode, on the other hand, is used when traveling at higher speeds like on freeways. The Combined mode utilizes both systems in mixed driving settings. A sophisticated computer system seamlessly handles the mode changes. The compressed air tanks are “recharged” by sucking air in during certain driving conditions and by regenerative braking.

The Hybrid Air system, according to Citroen, offers many of the same advantages of full-hybrid vehicles plus some unique ones. Range improves up to 90% compared to similar vehicles powered by gasoline, with the Hybrid Air’s fuel economy estimated to be over 90 mpg. During city driving, carbon emissions plummet between 3.92 ounces / mile to zero when in Air Mode.

Citroen says advantages of its hybrid air system is less weight (220 pounds, considerably less than than electric-motor / batteries systems in most hybrid vehicles) and inexpensive to set up. Since there is no bulky batteries to store, interior space in the Hybrid Air is unaffected.

Citroen aims to roll out production versions of the Hybrid Air by 2016. Note it will only be available for its subcompact, compact, and crossover models at this time. While the automaker plans to sell such models worldwide, there is currently no plans to bring any of them here to the U.S.

The Hybrid Air concept is one of the latest vehicles to use compressed air to power cars. OneFlowAIR by MDI uses a similar hybrid system. There is even a motorcycle – the O2 Pursuit – which is strictly air-powered.

Joel Arellano, EarthTechling