The history of the hybrid car stretches back to the beginning of the history of the automobile itself, with the combination of a combustion engine and an electric motor. From the first heavy and impractical battery-driven vehicles to the sleek and efficient models of today, the hybrid is crossing the threshold to become a viable alternative in driving.
The First Hybrids
Although many inventors found limited success in electric vehicles, Ferdinand Porsche developed the first genuine hybrid vehicle in 1901. According to records, it featured a combustion engine that provided power to the vehicle's electric motors. Car companies around the world rapidly replicated the innovative improvements to his electric car. Thousands of electric cars were sold within the first 5 years of the 20th century, including those made by the Belgian company, Pieper, and the Electric Vehicle Company in the US. Electric cars were preferred by customers because at the time, gasoline-powered cars were extremely noisy, bumpy and smelly.
Gasoline Overtakes Electric
When Henry Ford's lighter gas-powered engines were put into his cars on his famous auto assembly lines, the preference for electric powered cars dropped dramatically. Several electric vehicle companies went out of business by 1920 because the gas-powered vehicles were so much less expensive. However, that didn't keep engineers and inventors from trying to perfect the gasoline/electricity hybrid. Although companies made a few strides forward in design and efficiency, the hybrid car was not much more than an experiment until 1965.
Alternative Energy Movements
With attention to environmental issues and a more aware public, the United States Congress began to implement bills in the mid-1960s that reduced pollution, increased energy efficiency and sought to explore alternative energy sources. Electric cars were recommended as alternatives to gas-powered cars and reduce pollution. In the 1970s, two engineers revamped a Buick Skylark to be the first modern hybrid. The government continued to seek out electric vehicle options into the 1970s and 1980s by giving incentives to companies like GM to research and develop efficient and cost-effective hybrids. In 1989, Audi introduced an experimental hybrid vehicle, and, in 1993, several auto companies partnered with the Clinton Administration to develop hybrid vehicles.
Hybrids Hit the Market
More than 18,000 Toyota Prius hybrids were sold in Japan in 1997, and Audi sold its first hybrids in Europe that same year. Demand grew in Asia, but the US market demanded only a few hundred of these vehicles, until 1999, when the Honda Insight won several awards. In the 21st century, the popularity and availability of hybrids continues to grow around the world.