Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Development History of the Hybrid Car

By Wendy Gorman

Are modern hybrid cars reinventing the wheel? Well not quite, but hybrid car developers may be going full circle. Hybrid cars are currently all the rage and this is for many reasons including economy, climate change, fuel shortages and many more forms of challenge to the motorist. The latest hybrid cars are seen as a modern response to these challenges. The truth however is that the automobile manufacturing industry has been here before. So while contemplating the purchase of a new super modern hybrid, why not pause a little and reflect on the history behind today's so called new designs?

It is not generally realized that designs for hybrid cars actually predate designs for gasoline driven cars. As early as 1665 a certain Ferdinand Verbeist is known to have been working on the concept of a self-moving wagon. This appears to have been a very basic design, based on a simple four-wheeled wagon of the day to which some form of power source was to be added. The motive power was to be steam! It is known that he was still working on his design in the late 1670's but unfortunately no record exists to show whether he actually got it to work.

It was nearly 100 years later when Nicholas Cugnot produced a somewhat more sophisticated steam carriage that actually worked. Capable of speeds up to some six miles per hour, this vehicle proved the concept, but suffered from both not being able to create enough steam to go any faster and also not being able to carry enough fuel to go any great distance. Nonetheless, surely Nicholas can claim to have produced the first working hybrid car.

Over the next 70 years a number of designers tried various ways to overcome the known drawbacks of what came to be known as the horseless carriage and in 1839 Robert Anderson announced the electric powered car. Robert, who designed and built his car in Scotland, seemed to have made the breakthrough everyone was looking for.

Although highly acclaimed at the time, there were as always some snags to be overcome in order to increase performance and to create what today we would call a more user-friendly product. This electric car was a highly applauded innovation of its time. The main drawback with this design was the difficulty in maintaining the charge in the car's automotive batteries. The solution to this development problem proved elusive to many pioneers of the fledgling automobile industry.

By the late 19th century, automobile engineers were experimenting with combined fuel sources less dependent on battery recharging technology. It was in 1898 that Porsche introduced the Lohner Electric Chaise. This was powered by a combination of electric and fuel combustion technology and on battery power alone could cover distances of up to 40 miles. The ultimate aim of realistic distances was getting closer.

Throughout the major part of the 20th century the ideas behind the hybrid car lay somewhat dormant, as availability of cheap gasoline and the advance of conventional technology for powering cars, trucks etc was fully exploited in a great transport revolution. The first decade of the 21st century however brought changes in outlook based on rising cost of oil and gasoline, together with a growing environmental awareness of such things as global warming. Development engineers combined both a gas and a battery powered engine to power what would become today's hybrid car. This was kick started by Honda who introduced the lightweight two-door Honda Insight to the American automobile marketplace. A vigorous and continuing series of developments by other manufacturers have created the range of hybrid models we know today. In the same way that complex development of the gasoline driven car does not stop people understanding the 'simple concept' of conventional cars, the apparently complex ideas underpinning the latest hybrid cars, should not stop the automobile purchaser from seeing the hybrid car as being just as simple to understand. The hybrid car started out as a simple, self powered, four wheeled wagon and it is still that today - About 350 years after it was first conceived!

Wendy Gorman is an accomplished author and niche website developer. She is committed to exploring the question "what is a hybrid car?" and also to explain how to buy a hybrid car. Visit her sites now to better understand the hybrid car marketplace and its future.

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