A car that was designed to eliminate air pollution while driving was shown at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK.
Created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the Airo should go into production in China in 2023 — and the idea is to manufacture a million of them.
The radical design aims not only to address the issue of pollution, but also to help resolve the “space crisis” evidenced by the covid-19 pandemic.
Critics are not convinced, however, that the automobile can be more than a concept car.
Despite having designed the new version of London’s iconic Routemaster bus, Heatherwick is best known for architectural projects such as Google’s headquarters in California and London.
He told the BBC that although he had never designed a car before, he was intrigued by the project’s brief.
“When I grew up, design values were manifested through cars, whatever the [Ford] Sierra from the 1980s, the [Fiat] Panda, some important ideas were coming through cars.”
“When we were approached by IM Motors in China, we said we weren’t car designers, and they said, ‘That’s why we want you.’
The car — which was first unveiled at the Shanghai show in April — has a large glass roof, and its interior is designed to look like a living room, with adjustable chairs that convert into beds and a dedicated coffee table. to meetings or meals.
The steering wheel is hidden in the dashboard, and the vehicle’s exterior is textured, with a series of dimples or bumps.
“Automakers are scrambling to make electric cars, but a new electric car shouldn’t just be another car with a different look,” says Heatherwick.
In addition to wanting to reflect the airflow over the car with its wavy exterior, the front grille will be equipped with an air filter that “will collect the equivalent of one tennis ball of particulate matter per year,” he adds to the BBC.
“It may not sound like much, but think of a tennis ball in your lungs. It helps to clear the air, and with a million vehicles in China alone, it makes a difference.”
Incorporating this technology is “the next stage of development,” he says.
It is expected to have both an autonomous and driver-controlled mode.
“I can’t see how this car can make a significant contribution to solving the many problems associated with car ownership and use,” says the BBC Peter Wells, professor of business and sustainability at the Cardiff Business School’s automotive industry research centre, at Wales.
“The contribution of this car to cleaning the air in our polluted urban centers would be so small that it would be impossible to measure.”
“This is readily apparent if you compare the volume of air that is likely to pass through the car’s filtration system with the total volume of air.”
The second big idea behind the car’s design is as an alternative space for owners to use.
“Covid raised the issue of the space crisis. Many of us live in apartments and houses and we need more space, an office or study space,” says Heatherwick.
With a billion cars in the world that are used only about 10% of the time, there is room for them to become “valuable real estate”, he adds.
He was inspired by first-class aircraft seats, which are used “for sleeping, eating, having fun and working.”
“The car becomes common space when you’re not driving.”
The vehicle is expected to sell for around £40,000 (approximately £287,000) — something Heatherwick described as “not a crazy luxury.”
Wells doesn’t believe the car can be produced in its current form.
“The auto industry has a long history of excitement around concept cars, but the transition to production — if it happens at all — usually means that exciting features are replaced with something more mundane, manufacturable, practical to use. and economical.”
“It’s not a fantasy,” argues Heatherwick.
“The whole idea was that it wasn’t a concept car, so we’re working with a manufacturer and we’re focusing on ideas that can happen.”
He admits, however, that the design “may simplify a bit” when it goes into production.