Car and truck buyers around the world are moving away from traditional gas vehicles toward hybrid vehicles. Before spending money on a new hybrid, you should learn more about the history of hybrid cars.

Ferdinand Porsche may be responsible for the push toward hybrid cars taking place in 2010.  Porsche, a Czech engineer, was responsible for creating a hybrid car called the Mixte in 1901.  Porsche’s hybrid car was just as novel as the various electric and gas-powered vehicles that were bandied about in Europe and America at the time.  The Mixte was distinct, however, in that Porsche’s design would be similar to hybrid cars developed a century later.  The Porsche Mixte featured a combustion engine that worked with an AC generator to produce more power than contemporary cars.  The Czech car designer actually raced the Mixte in the 1901 Exelberg Rally and won, demonstrating that this prototype could viably be produced on a large scale.

Woods Motor Vehicle Company

We think of Henry Ford, General Motors and Chrysler when we think of the advent of American cars.  Woods Motor Vehicle Company was producing electric and hybrid cars before the heydays of today’s Big Three automakers.  This Chicago-based automaker created the all-electric Phaeton® and the Dual Power® hybrid between 1902 and 1915.  The Woods Phaeton® was capable of reaching a maximum speed of 14 miles per hour and offered a range of 18 miles.  Woods moved very few units of the Phaeton® because of the limits of electrification in the United States along with the exorbitant $2,000 sticker price.

Woods Motor Vehicle Company also offered a predecessor to today’s hybrid cars with the 1915 Dual Power®.  This early hybrid car used all-electric power at speeds below 15 miles per hour, which were common on dirt roads.  The 1915 Dual Power® would use its combustion engine for power once it reached 15 miles per hour.  Woods had an early edge on Ford and other automakers by getting the 1915 Dual Power® to a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour.  In time, however, the high costs of these vehicles coupled with advancements by Henry Ford spelled the end of hybrid cars for the foreseeable future.

Decline of Hybrid Cars

The Porsche Mixte and the Woods Dual Power became museum pieces as the world entered the 1920s.  The automotive industry advanced considerably in the first 20 years of the 20th century thanks to innovators like Henry Ford.  Ford’s constant experimentation with new models along with a focus on efficient production led to better cars at lower prices.  While the Woods Phaeton was priced at $2,000, Ford’s Model T would be priced under $750 by the dawn of the Roaring Twenties.  Innovations made by Ford Motors, Chrysler and General Motors only explained partially the decline of hybrid cars.  The oil industry uncovered new veins of crude oil in Texas and Western states, which reduced the price of gasoline thanks to increased supplies.  The introduction of cars into communities nationwide led to the development of paved roads in most communities.  These factors contributed to a decline in the hybrid car until the 1960s.

Return to Hybrid Car Technology

The modern environmental movement sprang into being in the 1960s due to concerns about air and water quality.  This change in tone also extended to studies of how automobiles could be improved to reduce the environmental impacts of transportation.  Victor Wouk outfitted a Buick Skylark with an electric motor and an efficient gas engine to produce a hybrid drive system.  The EPA found that Wouck’s Buick Skylark reduced emissions by 91% and got superior mileage to the original version of the Skylark.  Scientist David Arthurs developed a regenerative braking system in 1978 that allowed an Opel GT to recover energy from the brakes to reduce strain on the battery.  These innovations not only rescued hybrid cars from obscurity but also offered blueprints to hybrid development into the present.

Japanese Dominance Over the Hybrid Car Market

The traditional dominance of America’s Big Three in the automotive market began to decline by the 1980s.  Toyota began to move away from clunky coupes and sedans toward affordable but durable vehicles that could compete with American models.  The Japanese automaker became the epitome of production efficiency, which was a point of pride for an American auto industry revolutionized by Henry Ford.  Toyota, Honda and other automakers began to infiltrate the American market, offering enough capital to these companies to develop hybrid cars and SUVs.

The Clinton Administration worked with the Big Three and components manufacturers to contend with these challenges by 1993.  President Clinton and Congress established the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) to create an environment where American automakers could develop cars that ran on alternative fuels.  Ford, General Motors and Chrysler focused largely on SUVs and high-end pickup trucks in the 1990s to appeal to American consumers with high amounts of expendable income.  As the PNGV fell into irrelevancy by the end of the 1990s, Japanese automakers balanced their reliable entry-level vehicles with research and development into hybrid cars.

Toyota was the first to produce a hybrid car that could be mass produced with its Prius sedan.  The Toyota Prius first hit Japanese streets in 1997 and reached the United States by the 2002 model year.  The Prius remains the center piece of Toyota’s hybrid vehicle development.  Honda has joined in the hybrid vehicle market with the Insight in 1999 and the Civic Hybrid in 2003.  Toyota’s reputation for quality hybrids has decreased recently with questions about the Prius brake system, which has left an opening for Ford and other American automakers to develop new hybrids.

The Future of Hybrid Cars

The history of hybrid cars around the world should change drastically in the next decade with several looming advancements.  Automakers are looking to new battery chemistry to extend vehicle ranges including advanced lithium-ion batteries.  Toyota, Honda and the Big Three are also looking at lighter materials and sleeker designs to reduce fuel consumption caused by design flaws.  I visited Italy last month and used a car hire Bergamo Airport website to rent a hybrid so even on holiday I get my preferred choice of vehicle. The latest version of the Toyota Prius features a series of solar panels in the dashboard that collect energy to support auxiliary systems.  Hybrid cars, trucks and SUVs will increasingly feature plug-in equipment to allow for battery recharging on the road.  The variable that will allow these technologies to support hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles is proper infrastructure.

Wanting the best mileage possible is a primary goal of many drivers. Hybrid cars are attractive options for purchasers seeking to lessen the impact of fuel costs on their household budgets. Hybrid vehicles use two or more discrete sources of power; the most common combination of power sources is an internal combustion engine coupled with at least one electric motor. Besides reducing fuel costs and consumption, some consumers who select hybrid cars do so in part because of their perceived lesser impact on the environment and air quality.

With new hybrid models coming to market all the time, savvy consumers are ferreting out information that will help them compare options, performance, body style and safety data easily, so they are ready to make informed purchase decisions. In addition to government agencies and the vehicle manufacturers themselves, some reputable voices in the automotive publishing world have created electronic resources so that customers have a reliable source of information that they can trust. Learning more about hybrid cars has become much simpler, thanks in part to the efforts of these companies.

Best Hybrid Cars:

In addition to making available a plethora of tips and strategies for drivers to maximize the performance of their vehicles, this portal offers consumers detailed facts about mileage standards and vehicle performance estimates among many other features. FuelEconomy.gov’s research tools are easy to use, as the list below of top hybrid cars shows. Additionally, consumers have the ability to search through past years’ EPA rankings to compare a vehicle’s performance improvement over time, which is a great way to compare new hybrid models against more established brands.

The Top 10 EPA-Rated Vehicles are ranked by their combined rating (weighted 55% city, 45% highway), then by their city rating. Vehicles of equal rank share the same position on the list.  Including electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) vehicles, the Top Ten vehicles, in ascending order are: Toyota Camry Hybrid LE, with a combined MPG rating of 41; Honda Insight; Lexus CT 200h; Toyota Prius V; Honda Civic Hybrid; Toyota Prius; Chevrolet Volt; Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Wagon/Transit Connect Van; Nissan Leaf; and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, topping out at a combined 112 MPG. The top 3 models are purely electric vehicles, while the remainder of the list is comprised of gas/electric hybrid cars.

There is a also a page on the site that allows consumers to compare hybrid performance head-to-head, as well as one that has links to every manufacturer of hybrid vehicles in the U.S. Currently, there are nine manufacturers of hybrid cars.

Comparing Hybrid Cars:

Consumers looking for a simple way to review and compare 37 different models of hybrid cars will enjoy the clean interface at MotorTrend.com. Vehicle buyers can select model year data are available depending upon the make) to check year-over-year differences. Site editors have written up bullet points on engine performance and efficiency, along with average MSRP, fuel economy and mileage per gallon, body style and base engine. Consumers will also find links to free dealer price checks. MotorTrend.com does not make independent rankings, but instead provides complete specifications and details about each model. That way, consumers’ decisions aren’t swayed by an expert endorsement. Ranging in price from a high of $108,800 to a low of $15,455, there are hybrid cars to fit every need and budget. Learn more by visiting their website.

Manufacturer Websites: Selling Top Hybrids

Chevrolet

Chevrolet has created a web space devoted to its Chevy Silverado Hybrid. Customers can choose color and options, and learn about the extensive safety features and performance specs of this great vehicle.

Hyundai

Hyundai has a detailed website dedicated to its Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Customers can browse a photo gallery, and learn about options for the interior, exterior, specs and trim, safety and performance. I rented one of these on a business trip recently at car hire Murcia Airport. Pricing and packages let shoppers know exactly what it costs to build their dream hybrid.

Toyota

Toyota has a well-established web presence for its 3rd-generation Prius. There are tabs on this page for Models & Pricing, Photos & Colors, Features & Specs, Options & Accessories, Compare Vehicles, Demos and Videos, Build Your Prius, and Shopping Tools. Intellichoice named the Prius Best Overall Value of the Year in its class. This site has links to other hybrid vehicles made by Toyota, so that consumers can browse vehicles large or small.

Lexus

Contrary to what many might believe, Lexus has a wide selection of hybrid vehicles currently on the market. Models range from the modestly priced CT Hybrid all the way to the LS Hybrid (starting at $112,250). Customers can use the tools at the site to explore pricing and options, safety and security, warranty and protections, and service and maintenance. Other categories like interior, exterior, performance, and detailed specifications are also customizable based on the consumer’s needs and preferences. Shopping tools on the site include financial services such as understanding available programs and applying for credit; accessories; special offers; and a place to sign-up to receive news and communications from the manufacturer. There are also resources for owners, and search tools to help a consumer locate a pre-owned Lexus if desired. Browse all of the high-quality offerings at the Lexus website.

There are other ways to save money on gas prices, such as buying a scooter.  However, with a scooter, you cannot transport your children or other belongings like you can in a car or other enclosed vehicle.  Additionally, a scooter can be too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter.

The list of the top 10 hybrid cars includes both foreign and domestic vehicles.  Some of the vehicles are ones that you might expect when you look for information about hybrid cars.  Other vehicles might not be expected on this list.  Since many people do not think about hybrid SUVs when they are considering hybrid cars, the list of the top 10 hybrid car models might surprise you.

Most people do not think of hybrid SUVs when they are looking for information about hybrid cars.  Since the fuel economy for most hybrid SUVs may be about the same as the estimated fuel economy for a mid-size car, a lot of people do not even consider these vehicles to be true hybrids.  However, if you have a large family, or if you need to tow equipment like a fishing boat, you may find that a hybrid SUV will help you save money.

Like Chevroletis a division of General Motors, Mercury is a division of the Ford Motor Company.  The first two vehicles on the list of the top hybrid car models are the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid.  These two vehicles each get an estimated 28 to 30 miles per gallon.  Since the Escape Hybrid comes with Sirius Satellite radio, you can use the Sirius Travel Link to get information on traffic problems so that you can try to avoid sitting in traffic jams.  The Ford Escape Hybrid and the Mercury Mariner Hybrid both start under $30k, though additional options can bring the price closer to $35k.

If you want to drive around in a luxury hybrid vehicle, or if you already own a Cadillac Escalade and do not want to downgrade to a different hybrid SUV, you will be pleased to know that the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid has made the list of the top hybrid car models. The Escalade Hybrid seats up to 8 passengers in comfort.  However, this vehicle is more sluggish than the gas powered version.  Once you remove the heavy third row of seats and fold down the second row, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid offers over 100 cubic feet of cargo space.

While you might expect to see cars by Honda and Toyota on a list of the top hybrid cars, surprisingly the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Mercury Milan Hybrid cars have made this list.  With an EPA estimated 39 mpg in combined city/highway driving, the fuel economy on these cars is comparable to that of the Toyota Prius.  Since the price is lower, you can be sure that the money you save from buying gas will more than make up for the premium that you pay to purchase a hybrid vehicle.

It is not surprising that the Toyota Prius has made the list of the top hybrid vehicles.  Since the newest Prius offers an estimated 48 mpg in the city and 51 mpg highway, this vehicle is considered one of the top hybrid vehicles.  However, the Prius may not have the same high tech gadgets included in other hybrids, the fuel economy and the gadgets that are available more than make up for this lack.

The Honda Insight has made the list of the safest hybrid vehicles, as well as the list of the top hybrid car models.  With an estimated combined fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon in the city and 43 on the highway, the fuel economy is not much behind that of the Prius.  Since the price tag is thousands of dollars less, this car will more than make up for the extra that you would pay to purchase a hybrid vehicle, especially if you include the tax credits available.

The other Honda on the list of the top hybrid car models is the Honda Civic.  The Honda Civic earned 5 stars in government crash tests, so you know it is one of the safest cars on the road.  With an estimated 40 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway, the Civic gets similar fuel economy to the Insight.  However, unlike the Insight, the Civic costs more than the Toyota Prius.