The hybrid vehicle is something which is starting to catch the attention of worldwide drivers but is often dominated by traditional liquid based fuel vehicles and in later years electric vehicles. However, the hybrid is starting to become more and more recognised and is ultimately seen as the perfect stage by stage transformation from petrol/diesel-based vehicles to fully fledged electric vehicles.
Many people will be surprised to learn that hybrid electric vehicles have been around for over 100 years and have a history which has been very volatile and controversial.
The first hybrid vehicles
When talking about hybrid vehicles today we automatically assume people are talking about four-wheel vehicles as opposed to motorbikes and the like. However, it is worth noting that a hybrid vehicle is a vehicle which has access to 2 different power sources which can include oil-based fuel, hydrogen, compressed air, liquid nitrogen, pedal power, wind power, natural gas, solar, waste heat, coal or radio waves.
There is evidence that the first hybrid motorcycle was available in the 1800s and incorporated any two of a combustion engine, electric motor or good old-fashioned pedal power. While there have been development since the 1800s it is interesting to see, as with the basic design of electric cars, and their history goes back such a long way.
The first really well-known hybrid vehicle was produced in 1901 by Fernando Porsche who released the "Mixte" to the market. Based upon an earlier Porsche design the Mixte actually went on to break several Australian land speed records with the gasoline engine used to power a generator which in turn powered electrical hub motors around the vehicle. At the time the top speed was 50 km/h and the maximum range was 50 km. There have been many more vehicles introduced to the market since then but this is seen by many as a landmark creation.
The thinking behind hybrid vehicles
Even in the early days it was plainly obvious that electric vehicle technology was still at a very early stage and would need some enhancement if it was ever to hit the mass market. By incorporating liquid fuel based vehicles and electric power it was be possible not only to reduce the cost of travel and reduce emissions to the environment but also allow vehicles to travel much further than the early electric only vehicles which were around at the time.
The same idea is still relevant today with hybrid vehicles seen as a halfway house between liquid fuel-based cars and purely electric powered cars. The ability to switch between various powers has extended the travelling distance between charges or refuelling and has proven to be very popular amongst many consumers around the world.
Recent developments in the hybrid electric vehicle market
There have been substantial changes over the last few years with regards to hybrid electric vehicles many of which are now able to incorporate kinetic energy to recharge and improve the life of the electric battery. When used in conjunction with a traditional combustion engine, as suggested above, this offers the ability to significantly increase distances the vehicles can travel between recharges or refuelling.
The introduction of the Toyota Prius in 1997 and the Honda Insight soon after are seen by many as the vehicles which broke the back of the hybrid market. Since 1997 there has been a significant increase in demand with worldwide sales of the Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles now reaching 1.7m vehicles worldwide. Indeed the Honda Insight became the bestselling vehicle in Japan due in April 2009, the first time a hybrid vehicle has attracted such attention, and yet another breakthrough for the sector.
Are hybrid vehicles an alternative to electric vehicles?
This is the question which is on the lips of many consumers and many car manufacturers around the world. If there is sufficient electric technology available today why are we seeing the creation of yet more hybrid vehicles which incorporate both traditional combustion engines and electric power?
While there is no doubt there have been significant developments in electric power over the last decade, we are still nowhere near the production of mass-market electric powered cars which can travel comparable distances to liquid fuel based vehicles. While there are some exceptions to the rule, which we have covered and will cover in the future, many believe that hybrid vehicles offer a useful alternative and a soft sell approach to converting the consumer to electric powered cars.
The U.S. market
Hybrids have been very popular and very common in U.S. market for some time with U.S. drivers looking to do their bit for the environment while maintaining vehicles which offer similar power and similar distances between refuelling, compared to traditional liquid fuel based systems. There have also been some tax incentives for drivers to switch to hybrid vehicles although in the future, if the experts are correct, we will see more and more hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles on the road which could jeopardise some of the potentially lucrative tax incentives.
The bottom line is that with U.S. companies dominating the worldwide car market, along with those in the Far East, it will take a significant shift in demand and manufacturing patterns in the U.S. before electric vehicles themselves can even contemplate taking over from liquid fuel based systems on a worldwide basis. However, as U.S. consumers move more towards the hybrid vehicle we are seeing more and more hybrid models in Europe and the Far East which is good for consumers and beneficial to the environment.
Yet again, despite the fact that hybrid vehicles are more common now than ever before many people will be surprised to learn that these vehicles first began to take shape in the 1800s. Why they have yet to replace purely liquid fuel powered vehicles is a matter of great concern and great debate with many differing views and differing opinions.
There is no doubt that the hybrid vehicle is the ultimate feeder system for the ultimate expansion of the electric car market. Now that U.S. consumer have grasped this concept with both hands it is only a matter of time, as ever, before U.S. trends transfer themselves overseas. How long it will take to transfer worldwide car drivers from liquid fuel based systems to hybrids and then on to electric cars remains to be seen but progress is being made.