Will ‘pollution eating cars’ ever be a thing? Here’s what we know

Photo credit: Byri

British designer Thomas Heatherwick recently unveiled his pollution-eating invention at the Goodwood Festival of Speed; a car that was specifically designed to strip the air of pollution as it is being driven. Reports are that the one-of-a-kind vehicle is to go into production in 2023, should all things go according to plan.  

There are currently plans to make a million of these pollution-eating cars, called “Airo”.

Photo credit: BBC

Heatherwick’s Airo is equipped with a large glass roof, a cozy interior, and a ridged exterior designed to reflect the flow of air over the car. 

The vehicle showed off its radical design for the first time at the Shanghai show in April. The Airo sports a large glass roof with an interior that resembles a room with adjustable chairs that can be turned into beds and a central table to be used for meetings or meals. The steering wheel is cleverly hidden in the dashboard. 

The exterior is equally interesting, textured with what appears to be ridges; a purposeful design choice meant to “reflect the flow of air over the car” according to the BBC. Reports are that the front grill will be fitted with an air filter which will “collect a tennis ball of particulate matter per year.” Heatherwick says this particular feature will be the “next stage of development”. 

Experts are not hopeful for the future of this invention. Peter Wells, professor of business and sustainability at the Cardiff Business School’s centre for automotive industry research said in a statement to the BBC:

“I cannot see how this car can make any significant contribution to resolving the many problems associated with car ownership and use. The contribution of this car to cleaning the air in our polluted urban centres would be so small as to be impossible to measure.” 

Critics have also brought into question the elaborate design of the vehicle, suggesting that should it somehow make it into production, the vehicle’s features would be heavily modified into something far more cost-effective and practical. 

Heatherwick, who is not known for designing cars, but rather architectural structures such as Google’s headquarters in California and London, is at least credited with designing the latest version of London’s Routemaster bus. He admits Airo’s design may “simplify somewhat” once it goes into production. 

Responses on social media were something of a mixed bag. 

One user expressed delight at the design, “70s vibe interior . I think the Sleeper movie car inspired this design,” referencing the futuristic car featured in Woody Allen’s feature film “Sleeper” released in 1973. 

Another user, who was a fan of the concept, but not the design, suggested: “they are showing completely [trash] designs, so hopefully people will hate eco-friendly cars.”

One Naysayer reasoned, “Waste of resources. It can clean up a tennis-ball size of pollution per year? It’s cheaper to drive around with an air purifier strapped on top of your car roof and still be more effective.”

Another said, “I wonder how “a tennis ball of particulates” compares to the amount captured in the air filter of a traditional ICE [Internal combustion engine] vehicle.”

The scepticism is understandable. Electric Vehicles have become increasingly popular, and yet they remain a distant dream especially for the Caribbean as far as replacing ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles.  

Valentine Fagan, electricity-generation consultant at the Office of Utilities Registration, told the Gleaner in June that Barbados is currently leading in the EV race with over 400 registered electric vehicles on the island. The Cayman Islands, another country doing well in the EV race, registered over 190 EVS in 2019. 

In June 2021, the Jamaica Gleaner reported that Jamaica is lagging behind other islands as far as normalizing EVs within the country.

According to the report, Tax Administration revealed that Jamaica had only 10 EVs registered on the island in 2018.