Hybrid history

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Fuel Economy > Fuel Economy


Powertrains of the future have a past

Don Sherman  

Automotive News | June 12, 2006

The greatest challenge every pioneering auto builder faced was finding a suitable source of power.

Petroleum-fueled internal combustion powerplants, steam engines and electric motors were equal hopefuls in the drive to replace horses with horsepower. When one contraption lacked the gumption to climb hills, resourceful horseless-carriage builders simply added a second power source, as if they were harnessing another mare to the team.

The pioneers weren't aware they were nurturing what we now call hybrid vehicles.

Several milestones of their progress noted here were drawn from Ernest Wakefield's History of the Electric Automobile: Hybrid Electric Vehicles.

1894: Italian textile manufacturer Count Felix Carli added tensioned rubber bands to double the power in his electric tricycle.

1897: Justus Entz, chief engineer at a Philadelphia battery company, built the first carriage powered by an internal combustion engine assisted by an electric motor. Sluggish performance was reported. Worse, the experiment was destroyed when an electrical spark ignited the gasoline tank.

1899: Two hybrids appeared at the Paris Salon. One from a Belgian firm featured parallel internal combustion and electric propulsion.

1900: Like Henry Ford, Ferdinand Porsche's first career stop was in the electrical field. He had earned two patents in 1897 -- one for a motorized wheel hub, the second for a series-hybrid propulsion system. After a front-drive Lohner-Porsche carriage elicited interest at the 1900 Paris Salon, a four-wheel-drive version was built. The latter model's storage battery weighed nearly 2 tons, so Porsche added a pair of generators driven by 2.5-hp Daimler internal combustion engines to extend operating range. What Porsche called mixte (mixed) propulsion successfully powered military vehicles, firefighting equipment and Mercedes automobiles.

1902: A series-hybrid runabout competed successfully against steam- and gasoline-powered buggies in the New York to Boston Reliability Test.

1916: Two prominent electric-vehicle makers -- Baker, of Cleveland, and Woods, of Chicago, -- offered hybrid propulsion. Performance claims for the Woods Dual Power were a top speed of 35 mph and 48 mpg fuel efficiency. Since it cost as much as a Cadillac V-8 with electric starting and twice the power, few were sold.

1938: General Motors' Electromotive Corp. began supplanting steam locomotives with diesel-electric hybrids.

1969: GM engineers in England constructed a two-seat minicar with a parallel-hybrid drive, a top speed of 35 mph and a range of 150 miles.

1970: The Clean Air Act followed by the 1973 oil embargo rejuvenated interest in hybrid propulsion. Four TRW engineers invented a clever electromechanical transmission for hybrid vehicles.

1974: Victor Wouk and Charles Rosen installed what they termed a compound parallel-hybrid propulsion system in a Buick Skylark. The five-passenger, 4,100-pound sedan demonstrated a range of 200 miles, a top speed of 80 mph and reductions in fuel consumption and emissions.

1976: After Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act, General Electric was chosen to construct a parallel-hybrid sedan capable of doubling fuel efficiency. Toyota Motor Corp. built its first hybrid, a small sports car with a gas-turbine generator supplying current to an electric motor.

1980: Briggs & Stratton sponsored the construction of a six-wheel compact. The 26 hp (combined), 3,200-pound multimode vehicle had a top speed of 75 mph.

1993: The Clinton administration created a Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles -- involving the U.S. Council for Automotive Research and a network of universities, national labs, federal agencies and suppliers. The goals were 80-mpg concept vehicles by 1999, followed by production-feasible prototypes by 2004. No prototypes emerged, but GM's Precept did achieve 90 mpg on diesel fuel.

1993: Toyota's exclusion from the new-vehicle partnership moved Chairman Eiji Toyoda to ponder more efficient automobiles. Takeshi Uchiyamada was assigned the chief engineer's job for a project called G21 (global car for the 21st century).

1994: The original goal of a 50 percent efficiency gain for G21 was doubled by Toyota's new engineering executive vice president, Akihiro Wada. He targeted the next year's Tokyo Motor Show as the ideal opportunity for displaying a hybrid concept.

1995: While the Toyota Prius concept was under construction, 80 research engineers brainstormed on a practical hybrid powertrain. The final Toyota Hybrid System selected in June combined one internal combustion engine, two electric motor-generators and a planetary gear set in a configuration identical to TRW's 1970 electromechanical transmission. The first prototype ran in December.

1996: The Prius' market introduction was accelerated two years so Japanese customers would be on the road before the Kyoto conference on global warming, to be held in December 1997.

1997: Two hybrid vehicles were introduced for sale. In Europe, Audi's A4 Avant Duo used a 90-hp turbo-diesel and a 29-hp electric motor to drive the front wheels. In Japan, the Toyota Prius teamed a 57-hp gasoline engine with a 40-hp electric motor.

1999: At the Detroit auto show, Honda presented a two-seat concept called VV with a three-cylinder gasoline engine and Integrated (electric) Motor Assist powering the front wheels. It went on sale that year as the Honda Insight with EPA ratings of 61 mpg in city driving and 70 mpg on the highway. During a five-year GM-Toyota technical liaison, the hybrid portion of their cooperative effort was called Synergy.

2000: A second-generation Toyota Prius arrived for sale in the United States with more power, better acceleration and lower emissions than the previous Japanese model.

2003: After the new third-generation Prius earned several awards, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President Jim Press called it "the hottest car we've ever had."

2005: BMW, DaimlerChrysler and GM form an equal partnership to develop a hybrid drive system previously announced as a two-mode design by GM. First applications were scheduled for introduction in late 2007.

2006: Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Lexus, Mercury and Toyota offer a dozen hybrid car and truck models. Industry forecasters predict annual global hybrid sales will exceed a million units by 2010.