The Toyota Prius was one of the first mass-produced hybrid cars on the market. With so many other manufacturers making their own hybrid vehicles, such as Audi, Honda and Ford to name just a few, there’s never been a more popular time to buy these environmentally friendly vehicles.
Combing a mixture of electric power with the more standard fuel option, these automobiles protect the environment by shutting off the electric engine when the car is at a stop, and automatically changing from electric to fuel only as the need for extra power arises. Fuel efficiency is excellent as well, and the electric engines negate the normal amount of pollution that other cars can emit into the atmosphere.
What might be surprising, however, is that the idea and technology behind hybrid vehicles go back way further than the Toyota Prius, and goes to show that perhaps these vehicles could have come out a lot sooner, especially given their popularity today.
In The Beginning
As unbelievable as it might seem, the idea behind today’s hybrid cars didn’t begin with the release of the Toyota Prius in 1997. In fact, you’d have to go back a whole lot farther than that to see where the initial idea originated.
Although the earliest recognised steam “cars” were built in 1769 by the Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot, the first hybrid vehicle proper was unveiled in 1870, when Sir David Salomon combined batteries with a light electric motor. Despite snail-like speed and the very low distances that the car was capable of, the first hybrid was born.
Improvements in battery technology led to what can be classed as the first truly successful hybrid vehicle in 1897, when the London Electric Cab Service ran cars on a mix of electric and battery that could travel up to 50 miles on a single charge. However, it wasn’t until the environment became such a big issue that the real advances were made, as the major manufacturers came to the fore.
The Hybrid Market Today
Although the Arab oil embargo of 1973 saw many companies looking at alternative sources of running cars, it was a year later that the Federal Clean Car Incentive Program saw companies look towards gas and electric hybrid alternatives. In fact, a couple of freelance engineers came up with a hybrid gas-electric vehicle that met all the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency, only for it to be rejected.
Now, however, the green issue is of far greater importance, and from Toyota’s stance in 1997 with the Prius, the hybrid market is a multi-million dollar industry. Toyota continues to lead the way with its Prius II as well as its Camry model, but there are also models from Ford with its Escape Hybrid, as well as Honda with its hugely popular Civic Hybrid. With people like Al Gore now pushing the environmental issue to the fore, it’s a market that can only continue to grow.