It might seem like the hybrid car was created just a couple of decades ago with the invention of the Toyota Prius. However, the hybrid car actually dates back to over a century ago and has had a spotty history ever since. Let’s take a look at the history of hybrid cars and find out when the first one was built.
Believe it or not, the first hybrid car built was by Ferdinand Porsche way back in 1899. He called it the System Lohner-Porsche Mixte and it used a gasoline engine, instead of a battery pack, that supplied power to two electric motors that each drove the front wheels. He produced 300 of them at the time as the car was well-received by the public, but its popularity didn’t last long.
In 1904, Henry Ford created the first automobile assembly line and started mass-producing gasoline-engine cars at a much more rapid rate and sold them for a more affordable price than the hybrids at the time. Soon enough, the hybrid cars were too expensive and died out for a lengthy period of time.
Fast forward to the 1960s when Congress wanted to reduce air pollution and concentrate more on manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars at a time when American gas guzzlers were prevalent. However, it wasn’t until 1973, when the Arab oil embargo caused an oil crisis that drove up gasoline prices and the public demand for more fuel-efficient cars increased. But this, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to bring back the hybrid car.
Over the next couple of decades, smaller cars with smaller engines became more popular, especially when the Japanese brands gained more popularity in the U.S. Cars like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord and Civic became more popular and engine technology went from carbureted engines to fuel injection.
During the 1990s, automakers like GM and Toyota attempted to mass-produce electric cars in an effort to reduce greenhouse gasses. GM released the EV1 and Toyota released the RAV4 EV, both of which had very short production runs as they did not deem profitable enough for the companies to continue making them. Then in 1999, Honda debuted the first Insight, a two-seat, two-door hybrid that achieved astronomical gas mileage (61 mpg combined).
Only seven months after the Honda Insight was released, Toyota debuted the first Prius, which over time made the words “hybrid car” and “Toyota Prius” household names. Near the 2010s, as fuel prices increased and environmental awareness became more popular, new car brands like Tesla appeared on the market and more automakers have focused on hybrid and electric cars as a large part of their future lineup.
From what we can tell now, there will be much larger strides taken toward fuel efficiency and “green” vehicles. For example, Audi is planning to launch 30 electric vehicles by 2025 and Volkswagen has a line of electric cars that should be unveiling the next few years. While the future is always uncertain, even in the automotive world, we live in exciting times. While the current state of affairs is shaky, at best, we think it could mean bigger push in the right direction for not only creating more eco-friendly cars for the future but hopefully a better global environment altogether.