While Toyota and Honda were reaping the whirlwind of positive publicity that surrounded hybrids as fuel prices rose and then rose again, the fact that the concept is at least a century old was lost in the shuffle. Also lost was the fact that back in 1993, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiated its Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) program, which began as a five-year cost-shared partnership with the "Big Three" American auto manufacturers: General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. The three U.S. automakers committed to producing production-feasible HEV propulsion systems by 1998, first-generation prototypes by 2000, and market-ready HEVs by 2003.
The push toward hybrids came in the wake of the realization that battery-powered "pure electrics" were just not going to work for most people in most situations if and until there was a breakthrough in battery technology. As the DOE put it, "Hybrid power systems were conceived as a way to compensate for the shortfall in battery technology when electric vehicles were introduced."
Because the batteries of the early '90s (and for that matter the batteries of today) were able to store only enough energy for relatively short trips, engineers determined that an onboard generator powered by an internal combustion (IC) engine could be installed and used to charge the batteries as the vehicle proceeded on its way, giving it much longer range. Early in the development process that followed, researchers biased their systems toward battery-electric power, while eschewing the internal combustion engine as a source of propulsion for the vehicle. By having the vehicle operate on "wall-plug" electricity stored in the batteries as much as possible, supplemented only when absolutely necessary by the IC engine, efficiency and emissions performance could be optimized.
The expectation was that, with better batteries, the IC engine would eventually become unnecessary. In other words, we would transition from hybrids that used an internal combustion engine to keep batteries in a ready state of charge to pure electrics that had no IC engine at all. But after 20 years of study and intense battery research, DOE says that "it seems that hybrids are taking center stage and electric vehicles are only being used in niche market applications where fewer miles are traveled."
Though not part of the DOE HEV Program, Toyota and Honda dove into hybrid research on their own. As the U.S. program moved forward, its goals began to merge with the goals of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), which in turn morphed into the FreedomCAR program. In other words, it began to drift away from the hybrid concept. By that time the Japanese had introduced their gasoline-electric hybrid cars to the market and assumed a clear leadership position with regard to hybrid technology. The first hybrids on the market cut emissions of global-warming pollutants by a third to a half, and more recent models cut emissions by even more.
Was this article helpful?
Hybrid Cars! Man! Is that a HOT topic right now! There are some good reasons why hybrids are so hot. If you’ve pulled your present car or SUV or truck up next to a gas pumpand inserted the nozzle, you know exactly what I mean! I written this book to give you some basic information on some things<br />you may have been wondering about.