Otherwise known as an HEV, hybrid electric vehicles are those that use some form of combustion engine alongside electricity as a source of power. Typically, a battery (or fuel cell) is used to store the electricity needed to power the vehicle, and this is either recharged, directly with electricity, or powered by hydrogen thereby generating the electricity on demand.
The combustion side is provided by conventional fuels such as diesel and gasoline, and the term ‘hybrid’ comes from this combination of electric and conventional fuel sources and drive trains.
According to a 2006 Press Release, celebrating 75 years of Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche presented a hub-driven electric vehicle at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. This was followed up by the first ever hybrid electric vehicle, the Lohner-Prosche Mixte.
Despite a few stuttering attempts to create production ready hybrid electric vehicles, no real progress was made until the 1960s and 70s, when the “Godfather of the Hybrid”, Victor Wouk, started building a vehicle that combined new battery technologies and smart electronic controllers.
Wouk realized that an all-electric vehicle, using the technology available, was not going to be able to compete with conventional vehicles. After unsuccessfully peddling the idea around the car companies, he formed Petro-Electric Motors, Ltd., with a goal of producing designs for vehicles that were low-emission, low fuel usage, for government use.
This was under a competitive contract with several other vehicle designers, as part of the Federal Clean Car Incentive Program, initiated in 1970.
However, this opportunity never came to fruition, and as Wouk himself says “by 1976 I was so disgusted, I lost so much energy, that I gave up and went into straight consultation.”
He had, however, created a working prototype, and thereby proven that dual source (hybrid) vehicles could, and would, work.