How Have Hybrid Cars Changed – We brought to you by the Toyota Prius. Let’s lead the way. Are hybrid cars really such a new thing? Nope. They’ve been around for over 100 years. In our fast-moving tech world, automobiles have come a long way, baby. But they’ve been working hard for more than 100 years to make the things you see on the road today.
In 1834, Michael Faraday came up with the idea that running electrical current through a coil could create a magnet — and that same year Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith from Vermont, used primitive batteries to create the first electric motor. By the 1850s, Congress had attempted to build an all-electric train from DC to Baltimore, but the batteries sucked — sound familiar? By the 1880s, electric motors, power lines, and batteries allowed for electric trams and trolleys in England and in 1897 electric cars were first used for commercial taxis in New York City! That being said, by 1900, only 38-percent of all US automobiles were electrical. Steam and combustion engines were very popular, but it wasn’t because electrical engines weren’t good, the Baker Motor Company created a electric car that went 120 (miles per hour?), but those batteries doe.
How Have Hybrid Cars Changed, I assume you see where this is going. In 1900 the first hybrid was created to get the best of battery and gas together! It was called the ‘Semper Vivus’ (Always Alive) and was invented by an Austrian named Ferdinand Porsche; it could run using the gas, the batteries or both, was four wheel drive — for the first time — had four wheel brakes — also, the first time. But, thanks to low gasoline prices, stock crashes, cheap gas, and two wars, the hybrid car fell by the wayside. That all changed in the 1970s when the gas crisis hit… people got wise. By the 90s, hybrids started appearing in dealerships. The first Toyota Prius, for instance, was introduced in Japan in 1997.
The benefit of the hybrid has to do with the problems with inertia. As you might remember from Bill Nye, inertia is a property of matter, whereby an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Overcoming inertia is not awesome for gas engines. When a car begins moving, a gas engine has to work very hard to overcome that inertia. Gasoline motors being what they are, this is super inefficient. But for highway driving, gas is great. A full gasoline engine can create a max of about 100 kilowatts of power, but only needs around 7.5 during highway driving. This means the engine efficiency is low. Hybrids usually have smaller engines, augmented by electricity. In a hybrid, the engine is one quarter the size (or less) but still has a good amount of power overall. This is good because electric motors are crappy at sustained driving, but good at bursts of speed. During sustained driving an electric motor is working hard ALL THE TIME. Thus, on a highway or country road, they would use massive amounts of energy to keep the wheels moving, so instead a smaller gas engine takes over.
Electric motors can handle the frequent stops and starts with less energy. Combined together, efficiency wins! Even in the early 1900s Porsche knew this, allowing drivers to choose to turn off the combustion motors in the Semper Vivus and use only the electrics, or could use both. Today, we’re seeing more and more efficient batteries, smaller, more efficient engines and more hybrids and PLUG-IN hybrids, which use even LESS gasoline. Most modern hybrids also capture a lot of energy, taking the kinetic energy of braking, coasting or going downhill and converting that back into electrical energy.
But the question remains, are they REALLY more efficient? Well, when you take into account ALL the carbon footprint of battery making, shipping, driving, burning fossil fuels and so on — Yes. Electrical cars pollute about 1/10 as much as an all-gas car, hybrids about 1/8 as much. If I asked in 1998 if a regular dude would buy a hybrid car, I’d have been laughed out of the room. That’s for hippies! But now? What do you think?