Although most people consider hybrid vehicles to be a recent invention, a Belgian born engineer called Henri Pieper thought of it many years ago. Pieper’s version of the hybrid was a 3.5 horsepower miniature automobile or voiturette in which a small gasoline engine was combined with an electric motor under the seat. In 1905, an American engineer called H. Piper (no relation to Henri Pieper) filed a US patent for a car that was basically a gasoline electric hybrid not too different from today’s version of the hybrid.
While today’s hybrid car focuses on conserving energy and the environment, the hybrid designed by Piper had a completely different purpose – to have an acceleration of 0 to 25 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 in 1909, gasoline cars had already made it to the point where they could perform at the same or a much better rate.
When Were Hybrid Vehicles Invented
Even though Piper is the most famous of hybrid visionaries, he certainly was not the first person to entertain the idea of using a battery-powered electric motor inside of a gasoline engine. In fact, several others tested the theory.
In 1899, General Electric manufactured a hybrid vehicle. Several other inventors toyed around with varying ideas of what they thought a hybrid would be. One inventor even experimented with producing a hybrid with an electric motor and an alcohol-operated engine. During the same period, 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. Of the one hundred or so manufacturers during this time, only a few electric cars were ever produced. Some of those companies who were producing electric cars included the Electric Vehicle Company, Studebaker, Baker Electric Company and Milburn Wagon Company.
The Woods Motor Company of Chicago made one of the hybrid vehicles of note during this period. 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 car could achieve a speed of 25 miles per hour.
Many people do not realize that electric vehicles were heavily used during the period 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 their purpose because they were reliable, inexpensive, and easy to use for local deliveries.
By the time, 1920 rolled around the interest in hybrid vehicles had dwindled. This included the 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 time, the renewed interest in electric vehicles, was for the same reasons that they are being used today.
Hybrid Vehicles and the Environment
There was a flurry of activity because of the increased awareness of environmental issues. During the late 1960s, three of the major automobile manufacturers introduced prototype hybrid vehicles. However, even after these prototypes were introduced, the hype surrounding hybrid cars once again died down.
Activity sprouted once again during the oil crisis of 1973 and 1979. This time, research was aided by federal funding with a great deal of prototyping going on. 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 hybrid vehicles that we know of today.