The Toyota Prius has become the defining hybrid vehicle of today’s automobile market. Entering the market in 2003, the Prius spurred a revolution in alternative fuel technology. Continuing in that trajectory, contemporary automobile manufacturers are now producing even more hybrid and all-electric models to the public.
Hybrid technology, however, is not just a product of the 21st century. Hybrid and electric models have existed as long as gasoline-powered engine models. When first manufactured, automobiles were available with various power source options including gas, electric, and in 1915, a hybrid of the two. The Woods Dual Power claims to be one of the world’s first hybrid petrol-electric automobiles.
The Woods Dual Power was at the forefront of hybrid technology that utilized two power sources: gasoline and electricity. Patent number 1303870 was issued to Roland S. Fend for this technology in May 1919, nearly four years after the initial application in June 1915. The Dual Power used only electrical power up to 15 mph and then switched to using its gas-powered engine when driven up to a maximum speed of 35 mph.
For more information on early electric vehicles, see a work by Clinton E. Woods, titled The Electric Automobile: Its Construction, Care and Operation published in 1900. In it, he provides the rather short history on the electric automobile, its operation, and how it compares to similar gasoline models available at the time. This title is available for use at Hagley Library.
So why did hybrid technology fail at first? For the Woods Dual Power it was a matter of comparable performance and maintenance standards. With a maximum speed of only 35 mph, the Dual Power was slower than most contemporary gasoline-powered engine models. Additionally, the dual technology of both an electric and gas engine required more maintenance than other models. Woods did release an updated version of the Dual Power in 1917, but the company met failure by 1919.
Approximately 80 years later, Toyota was able to perfect electric-gasoline hybrid technology with the Prius. Other companies such as Chevrolet and Honda currently produce hybrid models. What is curious to note is that both electric and hybrid technologies have existed since the first invention of automobiles. Why did gasoline-only models take over? What are your opinions?
Note: The collection does contain Prius materials, but copyright law prevents their digitization at this time.
C.E. Woods, The Electric Automobile: Its Construction, Care and Operation. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Company, 1900.
Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.
Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.
Revised April 17, 2012. Thanks to Jim Dalmas for your help in refining this post.