The first hybrid was back in 1905, an American, A Piper filed a patent for a gasoline engine-electric motor power-train to improve engine performance so the car could accelerate from zero to 25 miles an hour in a sizzling 10 seconds, about 3 times other engines of the time. Unfortunately, by the time the patent was issued, 3 years later, gasoline engines superceded his motor. General Electric (Thomas Edison's company) developed several electric cars around the turn of the century, too.
It wasn't until the Arab Oil Boycott of in 1974, that the government and auto industry seriously began considering alternative power options for the automobile. Pollution concerns in California led to a goal of "zero emission vehicles" (ZEVs) to be available in that state, with quotas for manufacturers (as a percentage of total units sold). Very recent innovations in battery technology and hydrogen fuel cells are making hybrids, electric, and alternative fuel powered cars economic for consumers.
Complete History of hybrids
What does an electric or hybrid car give you?
In the US, there's a $2,000 government incentive for buying electric cars or hybrids, but not in Canada.
How popular are hybrids and electrics? The Honda Insight was the first, back in 1999, but only two other gas-and-electric models are available in Canada: the Toyota Prius and a hybrid version of the Honda Civic. Both have sold under a thousand units last year (by comparison, the regular Civic sells 65,000 units in Canada!). Several more models will debut later this year. These include hybrid versions of Ford's Escape SUV, Toyota's Lexus RX330 SUV and a V6 Accord from Honda. Also coming are hybrid models of two pickups: a GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado. By 2008, there could be up to 30 hybrid models in North America.
Open the hood on a hybrid and you'll see an internal combustion engine (just like the one in your car) and an electric motor, which is wired to a 144- to 300-volt nickel metal hydride battery hidden in the trunk. Hybrid cars or hybrid models of cars are more expensive than gasoline engine-only vehicles because they have to have two engines & fuel systems: the gasoline and the electric. Electric-only cars require expensive battery systems that cost more than just an empty fuel tank. At $28,500, the hybrid Civic costs $6,000 more than a regular top-of-the-line Civic (2005 pricing).
That being said, if you drive a hybrid 150 or 250 km every day, you're going to save a lot of money on gas. That might be a typical commute for some, or be a normal day in a salesperson's life, but may not be typical results for you. What is fascinating is that hybrids get much better in stop & go traffic than on the highway. It uses some energy to accelerate the car, and as the car slows down, the spinning wheels transfer energy back to the battery. During the New York International Auto Show in April, a new hybrid version of Ford's Escape SUV was driven non-stop through the streets of Manhattan until it ran out of gas. That took 37 hours and 927 km.
4.0 litres per 100 km in the city
10.1 litres per 100 km in the city
6.7 on the highway, 20,000 km a year will cost $556 in gas
20,000 km a year will cost $1,166 in gas
There are performance issues: The regenerative braking changes the way deceleration feels. When you speed up, the gasoline engine will automatically start up, and when idling at an intersection, the gas engine may stop while the electric engine continues to provide power. Also, the space required for batteries (fuel cells) reduces the storage space available in the trunk, though this will be solved with SUV and pickup truck hybrids (though their hybrid performance savings are not expected to be as great as for smaller vehicles)
The hybrids have generous warranties on hybrid-related components, with Honda and Toyota offering eight years and 160,000 km. There is no known impact on resale values, though higher-priced car models tend to depreciate faster than lower-priced models. This may also be affected by improved hybrid performance in newer cars over time (think about trying to sell an older computer, comparing against performance of newly released ones!)