In 1897, the London Electric Cab Company began a regular service using cars designed by Walter Bersey. The Bersey Cab used a 40-cell battery and 3bhp electric motor, and could be driven 50 miles between charges.
The next year, in 1898, Dr Ferdinand Porsche developed and built the first petrol-electric hybrid – the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid. The car used an internal combustion engine to spin a generator that provided power to four 2.5-3.5bhp electric motors located in the wheel hubs. The car had a range of 40 miles on battery alone and the top speed was 30mph.
In 1899 The Pope Manufacturing Company merged with two smaller companies to form the Electric Vehicle Company. Two hybrids appeared at the Paris Salon that year.
At the turn of the 20th century, Belgian car maker Pieper introduced a 3.5bhp hybrid car. The small-displacement petrol engine was mated to an electric motor under the seat. When the car was cruising, its electric motor was essentially a generator, working to recharge the batteries.
1900 - 1970
In 1904, Henry Ford developed his range of low-price, light weight petrol-powered cars, later to include the Model T, significantly enough that within a few years the Electric Vehicle Company went bust.
Electric and hybrid vehicles continued to develop, however, and in 1916 two electric vehicle makers – Baker of Cleveland and Woods of Chicago – both bought hybrid cars to market. Woods claimed that its hybrid model reached a top speed of 35mph and achieved fuel efficiency of 48mpg. However, it was more expensive and less powerful than its petrol-powered competition, and therefore sold poorly – just six hundred were made.
The mass market for petrol vehicles exploded in the US in the 1920’s and 30’s as local and federal governments developed roads across the country. By 1935 the electric vehicle had all but disappeared.
Fast forward to the 1960’s, though, and the electric and hybrid vehicle was set to return in a big way. In 1966 U.S. Congress introduced its first bills recommending the use of electric vehicles in order to reduce air pollution – which had steadily become a significant problem in many major cities.
Two years later, in 1968, three scientists working at components supplier TRW created a practical hybrid powertrain. Designated as an electromechanical system (EMT), its aim was to provide swift vehicle performance with an engine smaller than required by a conventional internal combustion unit. Many of the engineering concepts incorporated in that system are used in today’s hybrids.
In 1969, thanks to advances in technology, the GM 512 was introduced to market. It ran entirely on electric power up to 10mph. From 10-13mph, it ran on a combination of batteries and its two-cylinder petrol engine. Above 13mph the GM 512 ran on petrol, with a top speed of 40mph.
1970 - 2000
1973 saw the introduction of the Arab oil embargo, and with it the price of fuel rocketed. Volkswagen’s ‘Taxi’, a hybrid which allowed switching between the petrol engine and electric motor, logged over 8,000 miles on the road and was shown at car shows throughout the world.
In 1989 Audi took the wraps off the first generation of the Audi Duo experimental plug-in hybrid vehicle, based on the 100 Avant. The rear wheels were powered by a 12bhp Siemens electric motor instead of a propeller shaft, with a nickel-cadmium battery supplying the energy. The front wheels were powered by a 134bhp 2.3-litre five-cylinder petrol unit. Just ten examples were made, with the cars running less efficiently when running on their engines alone than the standard Audi 100s.