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.