1901: Porsche Builds The World's First Hybrid
By James Grahame
Yes, we're talking about that Porsche. At the tender age of 26, Ferdinand Porsche built a four wheel drive gasoline-electric hybrid car.
Although famous for his conventional automobiles, Porsche got his start at the Béla Egger Electrical company in Vienna, Austria, where he designed an electric hub motor. Fatefully, he joined coach builder Jakob Lohner & Co. in 1898.
Porsche incorporated a pair of hub motors in the first Lohner-Porsche design, which resembled a carriage with electrically powered rear wheels. It was easy enough to create a four wheel drive version simply by adding two more motors to drive the front wheels, and that's exactly what Porsche did to create the Toujours-Contente, intended as a record-setting racer. The vehicle required almost 2 tonnes of lead acid batteries to run, severely hampering performance and practicality.
To solve the car's weight problem, Porsche added a gasoline engine that ran a generator to power the electric drivetrain; the world's first series electric hybrid. He even raced such a vehicle, which was capable of hitting speeds of up to 60 km/h. The constant quest to improve performance ultimately proved to be the downfall of his electric designs, as he concluded that internal combustion combustion engines were far better suited to automotive use.
Dr. Porsche joined Austro-Daimler in 1906 and eventual rose to become the company's managing director. By the late 1920s, Porsche found himself as a technical director at Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart. His vision of a compact, lightweight Mercedes-Benz vehicle wasn't popular, and he departed. Porsche formed his own design firm in 1931, eager to revisit his small car concept during the depression that gripped Germany.
Here's a look at his second attempt, the NSU Typ 32, built in 1934. After a few more iterations, the concept eventually became Hitler's "people's car" - the Volkswagen.
WWII intervened, and - ironically - the Beetle was reborn after the war in a ruined car factory under British control. Ownership of the Volkswagen company was eventually transferred to the West German government, and production increased from a mere 9,000 cars in 1947 to a stunning 575,000 cars by 1959. The people's car had finally arrived.