From the early days of hybrid driving to the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, fuel-saving technology has been used to squeeze more miles out of your tank.
Hybrid vehicles are older than you think. Their battery power was more efficient than steam and cleaner than internal combustion engines, making them ideal in crowded cities in the early 1900s.
But Henry Ford found a way to make ICE cars at an affordable price point, and soon gasoline-powered cars became ubiquitous, making Ferdinand Porsche’s pricier Mixte hybrids fall out of favor with car buyers. While the gasoline crisis in the late 60s and early 70s rekindled interest in electric vehicles, it wasn’t enough to move the needle and, the technology remained mostly in obscurity.
After Nearly a Century, Hybrids Slowly Return to Market
By the late 1980s, California was seeing the worst pollution the state had ever experienced. Large metropolitan areas disappeared under a cloud of smog, prompting the state to enact the Clean Air Act Amendment in 1990. This legislation forced automakers to slash vehicle emissions and make electric vehicles available in the state.
GM was the first to respond to the law by bringing the EV1 to market. But, like its predecessor nearly a century before, its high production costs kept it from gaining a foothold in the market. While the EV1 never rose above cult status, that didn’t stop Honda and Toyota from making their own foray into the hybrid market.
The Honda Insight was introduced to the American market in 1999, with the Toyota Prius following in 2000 (the Prius had been selling in Japan since 1997). While it seemed like they, too, might achieve cult status, fluctuating gasoline prices caused more drivers to give hybrid cars a second look.
A Hot Planet Creates a Hot Hybrid Market
With climate change prompting governments around the world to take drastic steps to combat global warming, more automakers are pledging to switch to an all-electric lineup as early as 2030. Battery research and development have resulted in smaller batteries that deliver better efficiency and a larger range. It has also substantially brought down the cost of hybrid and electric vehicles, making them an affordable option for most drivers.
Although American car buyers haven’t flocked to buy electric vehicles, a recent article in the Washington Post highlighted the surging interest in hybrid vehicles. Hyundai Motors USA spokesperson Michael Stewart was quoted in the article, stating that, “Hybrids are great transition models as we move to a zero-emissions future.”Indeed, while we have a society where people live in the suburbs and commute increasingly long distances to their jobs, many drivers like the peace of mind knowing that there is a gasoline engine keeping the battery charged.
But as gas prices continue to sharply spike and drivers become more environmentally aware, there is a push to create more infrastructure supporting electric vehicles. Hybrid technology is helping to educate drivers about transitioning to an all-electric future.
The Shape of Things to Come
Although advances in technology making hybrid cars more affordable have helped generate interest, we can’t overlook the role that vehicle design plays in bringing people to showrooms. Hybrid and electric vehicle design has come a long way from the strange,hyper-aerodynamic, utilitarian design of earlier models.
Many automakers, like Ford and Hyundai, have incorporated hybrid technology into a more palatable sedan, hatchback, and SUV designs. Sedans, like the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, and SUVs, like the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid, are becoming bestsellers. And we’re beginning to see more hybrid and EV trucks hitting the road.
Hybrids: Our Past, Present, and Road to the Future
Whether drivers are motivated to save the planet or save a few bucks at the gas pump, they’re snapping up hybrid cars and SUVs as fast as they’re coming off the assembly lines. As they spend more time behind the wheel of their hybrid vehicles, drivers are becoming more educated about EV technology. Hybrids will continue to play a large role in the transition to all-EV production over the next decade.
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