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Hybrid history Earth-saving engines

Video courtesy of Carwp.com.br (from McLaren Press Release)

Many people assume the car was invented by industrialist Henry Ford, who decided that his customers could have his new creation in any colour they wanted - as long as it was black.

Like many of the best tales however, it simply isn't true. The Model T was the first mass-production motor car; while it may not have been the first car ever made, it should be celebrated for turning a bunch of hobby projects into a world-changing method of transport. But these hobby projects had been going long before the Americans got involved - before America was even a country, in fact. And it wasn't all about petrol.

The Mixte Ferdinand Porsche 1900

The first full-scale, self-propelled motor vehicle was built by Frenchman Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in around 1769, when he put together a steam-powered tricycle, and then scaled it up to create two steam-powered tractors for the French Army.

Steam was never going to be a sustainable source of power for individual transportation, so people continued to look into new ideas. Swiss inventor Fran├žois Isaac de Rivaz created the first vehicle to be powered by an internal combustion engine, and some time in the 1830s, Scotsman Robert Anderson created a carriage solely powered by crude electric batteries.

These technologies developed alongside each other, and occasionally were put together in the same vehicle. While early pedal-powered motor scooters could technically claim to be original hybrid vehicles, the first hybrid car as we know it appeared around 1900.

The Mixte, developed by Ferdinand Porsche, used hub-mounted electric motors in each wheel, which were powered by batteries and a small petroleum engine generator. Around the same time, fighting for the title of original hybrid, was a vehicle created by another German, Henri Pieper.

It used an electric motor that charged batteries at cruise speed, and employed the extra help from a small gasoline engine to accelerate or tackle hills.

The problem for early hybrid technology was that electrical symptoms were complicated. You either had to find a way of charging the battery using the motion of the vehicle, which didn't really generate enough power, or you had to haul heavy pre-charged batteries around with you. The internal combustion engine was more straightforward, and development of that began to race ahead. Car manufacturers could also borrow heavily from the aerospace industry, which was beginning to manufacture big, powerful internal combustion engines for planes. Development of internal combustion was producing ever more powerful engines, and in the days when climate change meant a wet weekend at the end of a sunny week, there was no particular desire to complicate matters with electrical motors.

Hybrid vehicles were still tinkered with after the Second World War, but they never really left the concept stage. General Motors created the XP-883 hybrid in 1969, but seemingly top brass were not overly impressed with its marketability. Despite promising enjoyable driving and low emissions, a test fleet was scrapped and the project was shelved. Twenty years later Audi had its own project, a reworking of the Audi 100 Avant to create the Audi Duo. A small test group of just ten were made, but even with Audi's advanced Vorsprung durch Technik, the weight of the batteries meant the car was just too heavy to in any way compete with the standard 100 Avant performance-wise.

Credit: FredAParks

Father Frank UC Davis hybrids

Just as Henry Ford is considered to be the father of the motor car for turning concept projects into a useable mass-production design, so too hybrid technology has its own paternal presence.

Dr Andrew Frank transferred to the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of California, Davis in 1985, and immediately began taking the curriculum out of the classroom and into the workshop. He began challenging his students to design and create their own working concepts, using design contests such as the SAE Supermileage Competition to advance creative thinking, and much of the work focused on the hybrid technology he had been working on for the previous 20 years. By 1993, Dr Frank and his students had created an electric-gasoline hybrid vehicle which could achieve 72mpg, and projects began looking at how to convert existing vehicles. In 1996, they converted a Ford Taurus to hybrid and demonstrated its capabilities with a drive from Detroit to Washington DC, driving at 68mpg.

Dr Frank's work had been attracting the interest of major car manufacturers, and the list of organisations that provided funding for these early hybrid projects is extensive: Nissan, General Motors, Ford and the US Department of Energy were just some of those who funded the UC Davis hybrids.

The Model P a game-changer for hybrid motoring

Credit: Toyota

While UC Davis was exploring the capabilities of hybrid technology, over in Japan, Toyota was quietly working on what would be a game-changer for hybrid motoring.

The Toyota Prius was first introduced to the public as a concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995, and soon went into full-scale production. Launched, initially at least, only in Japan in 1997, the first-generation Prius used hybrid technology to achieve 66mpg.

The car's fuel-efficient 1.5-litre internal combustion engine producing 70hp was complemented by a battery-powered electric motor which could add an additional 44hp. The engine could run as completely electric when cruising under light loads, while the battery would be charged by converting some of the power produced by burning petrol into electrical energy, which was stored in the battery. Further charge came from regenerative braking: the traction motor which rotates the axle can be used to slow the vehicle and unused energy is diverted to the battery system. Heat created by the friction applied on the brake discs is also converted into electrical energy.

Toyota Prius 1st Generation Commercial

The Honda Insight was released not long after the Prius, and Audi became the first European manufacturer to put a hybrid into full production with the third iteration of the Duo. However, the car was not a commercial success, and European interest in hybrids waned. America, meanwhile, continued to drag its heels. Despite the popularity of Japanese imports, the first US-made hybrid did not arrive until 2004 in the shape of the Ford Escape. In typical US style it was not only a hybrid, but a hybrid SUV.

The Prius remained the king of the hybrid market however, and by June of 2013, Toyota had reached global sales figures of three million, estimating that this many Prius cars replacing petrol-powered vehicles of similar size and performance had reduced carbon emissions by 18 million tonnes in 16 years.

Plugging In the next generation

While the Prius and others forged a path for hybrids in the global marketplace, regenerative technology still wasn't up to the standards required to meet performance needs; if car manufacturers really wanted to really increase fuel efficiency, they would need to plug their cars in.

Early ideas around plug-in electric vehicles assumed people would charge them in a similar way to how drivers fill up their internal-combustion cars - by using designated charging stations.

However, it soon became apparent that it would take many years for infrastructure to catch up and provide enough charging stations - developing a transformer that could allow the car to be charged from a standard socket would be much more effective.

Plug-in electric vehicles still had only a limited range, so blending them with hybrid technology was the next, logical step.

It was Renault that first put all the pieces of the puzzle together when it released the brilliantly named Elect'Road, a version of its popular Kangoo van, in 2003. The car used electrical energy and power from internal combustion simultaneously, and the nickel-cadmium battery could charge in four hours from a standard household socket. Take-up was minimal, with only around 500 selling before it was discontinued, but Renault had set the blueprint. Toyota saw the potential, and in 2006 announced its intention to produce a car which would plug into the household mains using new, more effective lithium-ion batteries.

Eager to capture some market share back from Toyota, Chevrolet announced its new Volt plug-in hybrid in 2007 - a full three years before it would go into production. The Prius was plugged in for its third-generation model, pushing fuel economy up to 89mpg, but the Volt has been a huge hit; it's the most fuel-efficient mass-production car in the US market and this has transferred overseas, making it the world's top-selling plug-in hybrid model.

Pursuing Performance closing the gap.fast.

With the fuel-saving, Earth-saving potential of the hybrid engine now well-established, development will start to turn towards improving performance; petrol power will always be king while it's faster.

If you're not particularly interested in the world of Formula 1, then you might not think that the super-fast petrol-guzzling cars have much relevance to hybrid systems and fuel economy. But in actual fact, F1 is now at the forefront of this technology.

In 2009, F1 teams began using a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) to provide an extra boost around the track. KERS harnessed energy lost under braking to provide an extra battery-powered boost when the driver chose to apply it. For 2014, the sport has shifted significantly towards fuel efficiency, ditching 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 engines for 1.6-litre turbos, backed by an enhanced energy recovery system (ERS). ERS features two electric motors: one capturing energy generated by braking and another converting heat from the exhaust system into electrical power. Both combine to fill in the gaps in the power band created by using a turbocharger, ensuring smooth throttle response.

McLaren, a high-performance car manufacturer with its own F1 team, has shown what can be done with this latest phase of hybrid technology with its P1 road car.

Video courtesy of Carwp.com.br (from McLaren Press Release)

The 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine is combined with an electric motor that's capable of producing up to 176bhp on its own, utilising technology from the energy recovery systems of F1.

A quick look at the stats of the P1 show that hybrid technology can be effectively applied to high-performance road cars: 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds and 0-124mph in 6.8 seconds, with a top speed limited to 217mph.

The hybrid engines currently in use in F1 are still prototypes, but are being produced by Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari, which is owned by Fiat. Honda will be returning to the sport with its own take on hybrid technology in 2015, too.

Credit: © Copyright McLaren Automotive Limited. Reproduction free for editorial use only

High-performance petrol guzzlers may have to watch their backs: the hybrids are coming.

Credit: © Copyright McLaren Automotive Limited. Reproduction free for editorial use only