Who Invented the Hybrid Car?

The hybrid car is such a suitable mode of transportation in these times of environmental and economic concerns that we tend to think of it as a recent modern invention. Actually, these vehicles have been in development for several years now. In fact, it may surprise one to know that they have been in development as far back as even before the 20th century!
It was in 1665 when Ferdinand Verbiest, a Jesuit priest and astronomer, began designing a four-wheeled self-moving wagon powered by steam. Verbiest is known to have toiled on the design well into 1680, but there is no known record that the machine ever worked or if it was even built in the first place. The first working steam-powered vehicle would be built by a Frenchman named Nicholas Cugnot in 1769. Capable of traveling at 6 miles per hour, the downside to Cugnot’s creation was that it could not produce sufficient steam to move any faster, as well as being unable to carry adequate amount of fuel to travel farther.

In the succeeding years, there would be several more attempts to invent an alternatively-driven horseless carriage; most notably by employing a then-emerging new power source, electricity. A number of inventors emerged who might have laid claim to having been the first who invented the hybrid car, had it not been for certain flaws that would appear in their designs. A Scotsman named Robert Anderson developed the first electric-powered car in 1839, which was much acclaimed during its time but nonetheless suffered the problem of how its automotive batteries could maintain their charge. In 1870, a certain Sir David Salomon devised an electric-powered vehicle that had a light motor and a very heavy battery, but these innovations came at the expense of its speed and range.

It wouldn’t be until the 20th century that the search for an unconventionally-fueled form of transportation would be close to fruition. It was in 1962 when Motorola cars founder Russell Feldman approached an electrical engineer named Victor Wouk concerning the growing problem of pollution caused by car emissions. In 1974, assisted by a friend named Charlie Rosen, Wouk’s solution was to utilize the body of a Buick Skylark to build the prototype for a vehicle combining the capacity of a gas-powered engine with the low emission rate of an electric-powered car. Wouk would come to be the man who invented the hybrid car as we know it today.

Wouk’s hybrid car was tested by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which proved the modified Buick to be more efficient than when it was still a typical gas-powered vehicle and ruled that it indeed adhered to the guidelines of the agency’s clean air auto program. Despite this, there was no apparent interest in Wouk’s creation, as most anti-pollution proponents would prefer the development of a completely electric environment-friendly car. Undaunted, Wouk and Rosen decided to become entrepreneurs, forming a company that would market the hybrid car for everyday use.

Victor Wouk had been developing the modern hybrid car throughout the 1960’s to the’70’s, but it was not until the late ‘90’s that it had become commercially available. It was an idea that took decades to catch on, but if we take into account the other previous attempts, it had actually taken literally centuries. Nonetheless, the question of who invented the hybrid car should not be in dispute. While others may have thought of the concept before, it was Wouk who was able to make it work.