Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)

A Brief History of the Hybrid Vehicle

The HEV concept goes back to 1905. On November 23 of that year, American engineer H. Piper filed for a patent on a hybrid vehicle. Piper's design called for an electric motor to augment a gasoline engine to let the vehicle accelerate to a rip-roaring 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour in a mere 10 seconds, instead of the usual 30. But by the time the patent was issued, three and a half years later, engines had become powerful enough to achieve this kind of performance on their own. Nevertheless, a few hybrids were built during this period; there is one from around 1912, for example, in the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

The more powerful gasoline engines, along with equipment that allowed them to be started without cranks, contributed to the decline of the electric vehicle and of the nascent HEV between 1910 and 1920. In the early to mid-1970s, though, a brief flurry of interest and funding, prompted by the oil crisis, led to the construction of several experimental HEVs in the U.S. and abroad. Interest in, and funding for, HEVs began to wane almost as soon as oil became plentiful again.

The dormancy went on until 1993, when the Clinton administration announced the formation of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) consortium, which includes the "Big Three" automakers and about 350 smaller technical firms.

In general--and in stark contrast to the PNGV--European and Japanese HEV development is emphasizing existing or modestly improved technology. To a greater extent than their U.S. counterparts, the Europeans and Japanese are concentrating on ways of reducing production costs and making HEVs more marketable in the near term. Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Honda and Toyota, among others, are developing HEVs with their own money.

In mid-December 1997, almost a century after the hybrid was first conceived, more than 25 years after development work began on them in earnest, and after more than $1 billion had been spent worldwide in recent years on development, Toyota began offering a hybrid automobile to the general public - the Prius.

Brief History of the Toyota Prius

Toyota first demonstrated a hybrid-electric concept vehicle at the Tokyo Auto Show in 1995. At that time it was a parallel-hybrid. It was believed that hybrid-technology was a way of providing a customer benefit of high-mileage and clean operation. The motivation was to produce a car that delivered high mileage for the domestic Japanese market who are paying upwards of $3 a gallon for their gasoline. So there was a real economic motivator for the technology.

Toyota set an aggressive development schedule, bring the Prius to market in just two years time in an effort to be the first car company in the world to offer a production hybrid-electric car for sale. For more information, read Behind The Scenes of Prius Launch at the evWorld website. In less than three years from its introduction, over 50,000 Prii were sold worldwide. And in just over 10 years, the total Prii sold topped the one million.

Prius Cumulative Sales Totals
  Dec. 1997 1998 1999 Jan.
Nov. 2000
  Dec. 1997 - Nov. 2000 Dec. 1997 - Jun. 2001 Dec. 1997 - Mar. 2003 Dec. 1997 - Sept. 2003 Dec. 1997 - Sept. 2005 Dec. 1997 - Apr. 2008
Japan 323 17,653 15,243 11,848 45,067 N/A N/A N/A (All Toyota Hybrids) All Prius Worldwide
Overseas - - - 5,180 5,180
North America - - - 4,631 4,631 45,000
Europe - - - 549 549 N/A
50,247 64,947 110,000 150,000 425,000 1,028,000

Click Here for a Graph of the Annual Sales of Toyota Hybrids 1997 - 2005

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 22 May 13