The history of hybrid cars is immersed in controversy. Not so much for the product itself, but for the technology it uses. Is it old like the conception of wheel itself, or is it a recent idea, as recent as the embryonic stem cell technology?
First of all, a hybrid car is a vehicle that uses on-board RESS, or rechargeable energy storage system. This is coupled with a fueled propulsion power source for the automobiles propulsion. The Hybrid car is a low-gas consuming vehicle, therefore, a low-polluting vehicle.
The last characteristic is particularly important because of the growing consciousness of people worldwide on the need to protect the environment.
History points to the clear differences between hybrid and all-electric cars. Electric cars use batteries charged by an external source. On this note, almost all hybrids, save for those considered as mild-hybrid, still need gasoline or diesel as their fuel source. Other fuels are also available in the form of ethanol or other plant based oils. Hybrid vehicles also use hydrogen gas occasionally.
What is the history of hybrid cars?
The history of hybrid cars is closely intertwined with the history of the automobile itself. In 1898, Ferdinand Porsche, a young Czechoslovakian, designed the Lohner-Porsche carriage, a series-hybrid vehicle that utilized a one-cylinder gasoline internal combustion engine. This engine spun a generator which powered four wheel-mounted electric motors.
The car was eventually presented at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. The said automobile, capable of up to 56 km/h (35 mph) fast destroyed several Austrian speed records. In 1901, it won the Exelberg Rally, with Porsche himself driving the car. Mass production during this time was yet to be developed, but for Porsches future-looking design, 300 units of this model were sold to the public.
The first Porsche model however, technically speaking as we know Porsch today, was a hand-built aluminum prototype, and was completed on June 8, 1948.
The development of the first transistor-based electric car in 1959, the Henney Kilowatt, heralded a new development in the history of automobiles as a whole, and the history of hybrid cars in particular. This transistor-based electric car, paved the way for the electronic speed control. Ultimately, this made the road for the development of modern hybrid electric cars possible.
The Henney Kilowatt was considered the first modern electric car. It was a product of collaborative work between the National Union Electric Company, Henney Coachworks, Renault, and the Eureka Williams Company. Whilst the sales of the Kilowatt during this time were far from encouraging, its development served as the prototype for the other automobiles down the line of hybrid cars.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, another prototype of the earlier electric-hybrid vehicle was built by Victor Wouk. Wouk is among the scientists involved with the development of the Henney Kilowatt automobile. For this work, some historians bestowed upon him the honor being the Godfather of the Hybrid hybrid car.
For his pioneering work, Wouk installed a sample electric-hybrid drivetrain into a 1972 Buick Skylark, courtesy GM for the 1970 Federal Clean Car Incentive Program. The program was later axed by the EPA in 1976. Hybrid enthusiast and supporters continued building hybrid automobiles. These models however, were not put into mass production.
In the fading years of the twentieth century however, the history of hybrid cars has taken on a new course.
1978, the regenerative-braking hybrid, was developed by Electrical Engineer David Arthurs. The said regenerative-braking is to have become the core design concept of most hybrids, currently available in the market. The first attempt of Arthurs used off-the shelf components, including an Opel GT. But the voltage controller that links to the battery motor and the DC generator belonged to Arthurs.
Fast forward in the 1990s
The history of hybrid cars took the final step to modernity in terms of mass production during the Bill Clinton administration. Clinton initiated the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles program in September, 1993, that involved the Department of Energy, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, USCAR, and various governmental agencies. The partnership was tasked to engineer a modern efficient and clean vehicle.
In 2001, this program was replaced George W. Bushs own hydrogen focused FreedomCAR initiative. The focus of the FreedomCAR initiative was to fund research that is considered high risk for the private sector to engage in. The long term purpose of which is the development and production of petroleum emission.
The success of hybrid vehicles in terms of mass production however, became a reality, when the Japanese car manufacturer entered the American market. This is when the history of hybrid cars finally took its modern development. Honda Insight and Toyota Prius became the modern progenitor of modern day hybrid vehicle available today in the market.