Image Gallery: Tiny Cars
Image Gallery: Tiny Cars

The Venturi Eclectic: 20th century body, 21st century technology. See more pictures of tiny cars.

Courtesy of Eclectic.

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At first blush, the Venturi Eclectic automobile sounds like the subject of a techno-thriller: A car that can power up with the limitless energy of the sun and wind -- a car that has no use for gasoline or diesel fuel. You can imagine governments, spies, superheroes and all sorts of nefarious characters trying to get their hands on one.

You can also imagine all sorts of people trying to keep it off the market. Would the major automakers or the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ever allow mass production of such a vehicle? After all, a car that dispenses with conventional combustion-powered technology would need no petroleum-based fuel; it would require far less maintenance and would need to be replaced far less often. A car like this would be nothing less than revolutionary, right?

Conventional automakers can rest easy for the moment: It turns out that the Eclectic, made by the small Monaco-based company Venturi, poses little threat to the automotive and energy powers that be -- at present. However, this unique vehicle offers an intriguing glimpse into the future of eco-friendly automobiles.

­The Venturi Eclectic sports an appearance that's as quirky as its method of propulsion. Its boxy body sits atop four small, thin wheels that evoke the carriage-like autos of the early 20th century. A roof covered with photovoltaic cells harnesses the sun's energy. And as if this car isn't green enough, Eclectic owners can also attach a removable wind turbine to collect auxiliary energy supplied by any available and adequate breeze.

This article will examine the battery-powered Eclectic and its bold claim that it's "solar-electric autonomous." Is it? In reality, the sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow. Since these renewable resources aren't always available or reliable, the Eclectic needs to be plugged in for electric power.

The Venturi follows in a long tradition of vehicles that have used solar power to charge on-board batteries. However, it appears to be the first mass-produced vehicle to do so, as opposed to merely being a prototype or concept car. Like many vehicles that run on the sun's power, the Eclectic shows certain limitations in comparison to petroleum-powered cars: It reaches a top speed of only 30 mph (48.3 kilometers per hour) and it's limited to a range of only 30 miles (48.3 kilometers).

Nonetheless, considering the attention paid to the effects of auto emissions on climate change, environmentalists and others remain positively charged about the Eclectic and cars like it. On the next page, we'll get inside the heads of the Eclectic's designers.

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