Let's say, like most responsible off-roaders, youire a 'Tread Lightly!' type of outdoor enthusiast, but all the newsreel footage of those brawny Hummers traversing sand dunes or protecting the troops has you itching to don some automotive military apparel. Well, a unique Army/private-sector joint venture might have just the thing.

The rugged-looking, high-ground-clearance runabout you see here is a 50 mpg (or thereabouts) diesel/electric hybrid. The 2100-pound Quantum MP Hybrid is designed to do the unglamorous work of military police patrols, light hauling, and other workaday chores that need to be done on military bases, far from the front lines. A fleet of these inexpensive, low-speed vehicles would free up the go-anywhere, do-anything Humvees to engage in the types of missions pictured in recruiting brochures. The Quantum MP Hybridis civilian counterpart is aimed at similar duty in National Parks, resort communities, campus operations, airport surveillance, and anywhere else a neighborhood electric vehicle would be legal to useothat is, off-highway or on roads with posted speed limits at or below the vehicleis 35 mph top speed.

Civilian versions are powered by a two-cylinder, four-stroke 18-horse-power Yanmar marine diesel engine and a 10-horsepower GE electric motor working in paralleloeither power source can drive the car. The military version uses a revolutionary new two-stroke diesel engine (see sidebar) in series with two 10-horsepower GE motors. That means the engine functions strictly as a generator to charge a larger battery pack that drives the wheels. Sized to fit in a briefcase, the diesel generator makes seven horsepower and can be removed and used to power other electrical equipment.

Seating for four adults and a 500-pound payload capacity are claimed for the MP Hybrid, but given the modest power propelling all that mass, one can expect acceleration to be deliberate at best. Similarly, despite the knobby tires, four-wheel drive, and a four-wheel control-arm suspension with an impressive 10 inches of wheel travel, donit expect these little motors to accomplish major rockcrawling.

A simple composite body attaches to a rolling chassis with just six bolts, so it can easily be reconfigured with different bodywork or even fitted with light armor. California Motors of Camarillo, California, penned the design and built the prototypes, while Quantum Technologies is handling the engineering work to bring the vehicles to production.