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Hybrid Cars - Brief History

Hybrid Cars - Brief History

What we think of today as the hybrid vehicle was actually thought of decades ago by an American engineer by the name of H. Piper. Piper’s version of the hybrid was a vehicle with a gasoline engine and an electric motor power train not too much different from today’s version of the hybrid. However, there was one great contrast in the two vehicles.

While today’s hybrid is focused on conserving energy and the environment, the hybrid designed by Piper had a completely different purpose – to have a 0 to 25 (yes, miles per hour) of only seconds. Of course today that rate is laughable but in those days it was a huge achievement. By the time Piper received a patent for his “hybrid” vehicle, cars had already made it to the point where they could perform at the same or a much better rate.

Even though Piper is the most famous of the past hybrid visionaries, he certainly was not the first person to entertain the idea of using a battery electric motor inside of a gasoline engine. In fact, there were several others who tested the theory. In 1899, General Electric manufactured a hybrid vehicle. Several other investors toyed around with varying ideas of what they thought a hybrid would be. One investor even experimented with producing a hybrid with an electric motor and an alcohol-operated engine. During the same period of time Porsche introduced a vehicle that included the electric motors inside the hubs of the front wheels.

Between the years of 1890 and 1920, there were not very many makers of electric cars either in the United States or in Canada. Off the 100 makers during this span of time only a few electric cars were being produced. Some of those who were producing electric cars during this period of time were Electric Vehicle Company, Studebaker, Baker Electric Company and Milburn Wagon Company.

One of the vehicles to note during this period of time was made by the Woods Motor Company of Chicago. Before the company stopped producing electric vehicles, they produced a hybrid similar to those of today that could cruise up to 20 miles per hour just by using the electric motor. When the electric motor was used with the gasoline engine the care could achieve a speed of 25 miles per hour.

Many people do not realize that electric vehicles were heavily used during the period of time between 1900 and 1920. Both electric delivery vehicles and trucks were used in many of the major cities both in the United States and in Europe. These vehicles were well suited for the jobs they were used for because they were reliable, in expensive, and easy to use for local deliveries.

By the time 1920 rolled around the interest in hybrid vehicles had dwindled. This includes use of electric trucks for commercial vehicles. Interest in electric vehicles remained low until the late 1960s when the media began to blast the automobile industry for using internal combustion engines. Public officials began to realize the threat these engines had on the environment and public health. This renewed interest in electric vehicles, this time for the reason that they are being used today.

There was a flurry of activity as a result of the increased awareness of the environment. During the late 1960s three of the major automobile manufacturers introduced prototypes for hybrid vehicles. Even after these prototypes were created, the hype about hybrid cars once again died down.

Activity sprouted once again when there were oil crises in the years 1973 and 1979. This time, research was aided by federal funding. In fact, some of the top research engineers in the automobile industry was done at this time. A great deal of prototyping went on during this period of time. Some of this work is evident in two of the most popular hybrids on the road today: the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape.

Perhaps the greatest surge of activity with hybrid production occurred in the late 90’s when the state of California issued a mandate against all automobile companies that manufactured cars in the state. The mandate held that a certain percentage of sales had to come from vehicles with zero emissions. Manufacturers jumped to the challenge, but after a few years, the state had to back off the mandate for several different reasons.

Starting in 1996 automobile manufacturers began producing the hybrids that we know of today.


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