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Pakistan is a country where no matter what kind of problem arises, someone is dreaming up a fix. For example, Pakistani drivers often have to waste hours every day lining up for fuel before they can even get their cars on the road. And now one driver and entrepreneur is trying to tackle this problem by reaching for the skies.
NPR's Philip Reeves sent us this postcard from the capital, Islamabad.
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PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Spring in Islamabad should be a happy time of year. The roses are in full bloom. The birds are in full song. So why are so many people here so angry?
ABDUL MAJID: (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: Islamabad is a modern city, purpose-built in the '60s as the nation's capital. The center has a lot of wide, straight roads.
I'm driving along a big avenue and there's a huge line of parked vehicles and a lot of angry looking people. This is a common sight in Pakistan these days. These people are lining up for hours to fill up their cars. I've been measuring this line while driving along, and it's way over a mile to the gas station.
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REEVES: These drivers are waiting to fill up with CNG, compressed natural gas. Pakistan has more cars powered by CNG than anywhere else in the world.
Abdul Majid drives a cab. He spends half his working day waiting in line.
MAJID: (Through translator) I have been here for two hours and the gas station is still two kilometers away.
REEVES: He has to do this almost every day, he says. He's losing so much driving time that his daily income of about 10 bucks is down by half.
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REEVES: Pakistan's government started encouraging everyone to use CNG about 10 years ago. It wanted to cut its bill for imported oil and use domestic gas reserves instead. CNG is also cleaner and cheaper than regular gasoline. The plan was a huge success, at first. Then the problems started. Demand for natural gas soared. Hundreds of CNG stations closed after the courts put a cap on prices. And separatists in Balochistan Province, where a lot of the gas comes from, regularly bomb the pipelines. Now there's a severe shortage.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: Enter Aslam Azad. Five years back, Azad embarked on a personal mission to find an answer to Pakistan's fuel crisis. He spent $500,000 of his own money and countless evenings designing a car powered by the sun. It looks like a golf cart with solar panels on the roof, hood and sides. But looks aren't important right now, says Azad. The snazzy design will come later.
It's very simple, just two pedals...
ASLAM AZAD: Yeah,
REEVES: ...the break and accelerator.
AZAD: Yeah. Yeah, accelerator and drive. You see, here's the drive, the reverse and neutral. That's it.
REEVES: It's the world's simplest car.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Very nice, we like.
AZAD: Thank you.
REEVES: We go for a spin. Azad heads a big company that specializes in heating and cooling systems and has made a lot of money. That's not why he created his solar car, he says.
AZAD: No, no. It's I did not did this for money basically. This is because my people needs me. I'm pretty sure this is what we are looking for. And this will solve the problem of people and the lines and the financial crisis.
REEVES: The car has a battery powered by solar and kinetic energy. The engine becomes a generator when it's coasting. It can do about 50 miles a day. But Azad says he hopes soon to boost its range greatly.
Others around the world are also pioneering solar-powered cars, often hybrids. Azad says his will be unusually cheap - just a couple of thousand dollars. He's certain that once he gets a manufacturing license, Pakistanis will snap it up.
AZAD: I have no doubt. I just have no doubt.
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REEVES: Back in the giant line for CNG, taxi driver Akhtar Farooq has given up hope. The gas station is still hundreds of yards away and now it's about to close.
AKHTAR FAROOQ: (Through translator) It depends on luck. Sometimes we get it. And sometimes we don't get it and we just go home with empty hands.
REEVES: For Farooq, Pakistan's solar car can't come soon enough.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.
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