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The hybrid car, developed and mass-produced in 1997 by Toyota, has become one of the world’s most popular and fuel efficient cars. However ‘the hybrid’ vehicle is not a new idea.
The first ever hybrid car was built in 1896 by Armstrong Phaeton. Featuring an electric starter, regenerative braking and an electric and petrol motor the vehicle displayed technology that would not be seen until decades later. Unfortunately, due to the turmoil of the early motor market the company folded and as a result the Armstrong prototype was left stored in the corner of an old factory.
The first major bump in the road for the hybrid car came around the time American Engineer H. Piper filed to patent the vehicle in 1905. His idea was to use the electric motor to assist the internal combustion engine hoping it would push the engine to reach speeds of 40kph. Unfortunately for Mr Piper, petrol-run engines had already achieved those speeds, outperforming the far more complicated hybrid engine and in doing so slowly phased out the hybrid.
Due to the oil crisis in the 1970s, there was an increased demand for a vehicle that ran off smaller amounts of fuel. As a result, more fuel-efficient vehicles were introduced. By the 1990s, concern grew over the suspected effect fossil fuels could be having on the environment and climate change, calling for a new eco-friendly car to be manufactured.
Toyota’s early leadership in the hybrid car field and recognition of a need to develop alternative fuel paved the way for the creation of a modern hybrid engine and in 1997, they released their first hybrid vehicle: the Prius. Unlike electric engines, the Toyota hybrid doesn’t need to be plugged in - the battery is charged while driving, using energy captured when decelerating.
Though the cost of building the vehicle proved to be expensive, Toyota pushed forward, mass producing an engine that was consumer friendly and fit for extended driving, saving money without compromising on distance.
After the Prius was officially launched in Japan, Toyota began exporting the engine just two years later, with Hollywood stars such as Leonardo Di Caprio lining up to buy the new model.
Since 1997, there have been over 12 million Toyota hybrid and electric cars sold worldwide, now incorporating Camry and Corolla vehicles as well as a global hybrid battery recycling program, the hybrid engine is potentially saving our atmosphere from 90 million tons of Co2.