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How Hybrid Cars Became Such a Success


2011-toyota-prius-blue (1)Whilst the hybrid may seem a recent modern innovation, the concept of electrically charged automobiles is something that was toyed with well over 100 years ago. As the world felt the full force of the industrial revolution, the turn of the century saw the birth of the motor car.

The Industrial Revolution

As early as 1884, an Italian textile manufacturer named Count Felix Carli took the simple principle of combining a box of tensioned rubber bands with the motor of his electric tricycle to add more power. By using two separate systems to generate his vehicle, the Hybrid was born.

Three years later, the first carriage to be powered by an IC engine assisted by an electric motor was built by Justus Entz, chief engineer at a Philadelphia battery company. Whilst considered a ‘failure’ due to its sluggish performance and consequent termination due to a rogue electrical spark plug, Entz forward-thinking paved the way for a new way of thinking.

A New Century, A New Concept

The start of new century saw the development of motor vehicles as a whole as companies explored the commercial world of automotive transport. The 1900 Lohner-Porsche Mixte was one of the first to stand out, using a conventional motor with battery assistance.

Its revolutionary mechanism was achieved on the fundamentals of a combustion engine generating electricity to batteries, the foundations to the Chevy Volt over 100 years later!

The Petrol Age

Upon the arrival of a certain Mr Henry Ford, the need for superior performance and range that was enveloped in the mass-production of petrol power became a more popular choice across the field. In fact it wasn’t until the late 1960’s where General Motors developed a series of small hybrid cars to a non-existent market. But why did they do it?

Clean Up Your Act!

The simple answer is the government. In 1970, the Clean air Act was introduced to combat the ‘smog’ generated by congested and bustling cities, such as LA. This renewed interest in the hybrid concept was fuelled by the oil crisis of ’73 and engineering companies suddenly realized the demand for more fuel efficient transportation.

The next two decades saw countless research and development programmes devised and experimented as companies looked to enhance this newly-formed market. GM, Audi and Toyota were a few of the leading car manufacturers to openly pursue the race for commercial success.

Ladies & Gentlemen – The Toyota Prius

The real breakthrough hybrid came into production in the mid 90’s and revolutionized the concept of hybrid automobiles. The Toyota Prius combined a 40-hp electric motor with a 57-hp engine on what was essentially the same gear set up configuration to TRW’s electro-mechanical transmission.

What Toyota managed to do was what all manufacturers had failed to do so far; create a commercially successful hybrid. The turn of the Millennia saw the second generation Prius arrive for sale in the US before the third generation was released in 2003, winning countless ‘Of the Year’ awards. The hybrid had finally been recognised on the Motoring stage and even elapsed its petrol counterpart.

A New, Eco-Friendly Drive

The Prius’s high level of performance combined with lower emissions opened a new avenue for car manufacturers as the emphasis shifted to energy efficient motor travel, with many cars manufacturers producing hybrid models.

The hybrid concept really has come a long way since Count Felix Carli disastrous attempt back in 1884. But without every trail, failed experiment and flawed commercial acceptance, we would never have been to achieve such sophisticated, reliable and eco-friendly models that are common on our roads today. You can even rent a hybrid car online (from Car Leasing Online in UK, for example) these days. Anyone can drive a hybrid, it’s not longer a privilege that only the rich have access to. You can even buy a second-hand Prius for a few thousand quid, and still save big on gas.

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