Hybrids Have Been Around for 100 Years

By dancurranjr On March 12th, 2009

plug-in-hybrid-car-phevHybrids are not just the cars of the future, they are also a thing of the past.

A recent conversation with a colleague about his experience as a hybrid vehicle owner turned into a bit of a history lesson. I showed him a picture of the earliest model of hybrid that I have examined, a 1916 Owen Magnetic, and he was amazed.

The first hybrids date back to the late 1800s predating the models we are familiar with today by at least 100 years.

The first electric vehicle (a modified buggy) was built between 1832 and 1839. General Electric built their first electric car in 1898, and one year later they built a four-cylinder, gasoline-electric hybrid. I came across some interesting statistics that stated that of the 4,200 cars sold in the U.S. in 1900, 38 per cent were electric-powered, 40 per cent steam-powered and the remaining 22 per cent powered by the internal-combustion engine.

But the most successful of the earliest production built hybrids has to be the Owen Magnetic. Advertised as “The car of a Thousand Speeds,” the first model was introduced at the 1915 New York Auto Show.

The Owen Magnetic used a large 374-cubic-inch-displacement, six-cylinder engine, which drove a generator that created a magnetic field (hence the name Owen Magnetic) to power the electric five-speed automatic transmission. Justus Entz developed this transmission in the late 1890s. There was no mechanical connection from the engine to the electric motors driving the rear wheels. The speed was regulated by pulling on a lever in the middle of the steering wheel to control the five different speed ranges.

These cars were very expensive retailing in the $6,000 price range. Today, of course, there are a whole range of electric cars on the horizon, some approaching faster than others, ranging from the Tesla Roadster to the Chevrolet Volt.

Nigel Matthews is the manager of specialty vehicles (vintage and collector cars) for the Insurance Corp. of B.C. ICBC’s Collector car program.
SOURCE: Canada.ca

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