Saturday, April 23, 2011

Riding the World's First Hybrid Car: 1900 Porsche Semper Vivus

by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York

Quick: name the first functional hybrid car ever built. Okay, sure, it's Porsche's Semper Vivus. But if you hadn't already read the headline to this post, you might have said the Prius. Yet the Semper Vivus beat the Toyota to the punch -- by about a hundred years. Yes, the world's first hybrid electric cars (and all electric cars) were built way back at the turn of the century, when it was still unclear whether EVs or gas-powered cars would take off. The combustion engine quickly became king, of course, and most folks forgot that hybrids and EVs were even in the running. Which is why it's a pretty neat PR gimmick for Porsche to roll out an exact replica of the very first hybrid car -- painstakingly and immaculately recreated by a devoted hobbyist -- and give us press folk rides in the amazing vehicle to demonstrate that hybrid technology is seriously old news.

n effect, we've known how to build functional electric cars and hybrid electrics for literally over 100 years. The moral of the story, to me, is that once a series of interests align and become entrenched -- the way oil companies' and automakers' did early on -- it's tough to untangle them. There was some serious money on EVs -- the first American taxi company was all-electric, for instance -- but the combustion engine won out for a variety of reasons. And because of gas-powered cars, we eventually got massive highway expansion and suburban sprawl -- if things had lined up differently for EVs or hybrids early on, the US could have been built completely differently. Of course, we'd have an even bigger coal problem ... read more story and watch videos of this car at

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