Timing Is Everything: A History of Hybrid Cars

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Hybrid vehicles are far from being a new invention, although hybrid cars that combine a gasoline engine and electric batteries have really come to the fore as we search for less expensive and less damaging methods to power vehicles. Hybrid engines and power sources have been used in transport for hundreds of years and while the greatest advances may have occurred in the last few years it’s possible to trace the history of hybrid electric cars much further back. However the last 10 years have been the main focal point as eco-friendly attitudes have been adopted. With technology constantly improving, they have definitely come a long way. While the first mass produced hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius, is still the best selling hybrid, the number of models available to consumers has increased drastically in the past few years.

The eco-friendly technology is always changing.  Here is a quick overview of how far hybrid cars have come and what to expect in the very near future.

1997 – Toyota launches the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius, in Japan. 37,000 Prius’ were sold in Japan before the popular Toyota became available in the U.S.

1999 – Honda releases the Insight in the U.S., making it the first mass-produced hybrid automobile sold in the US.

2000 – Toyota launches the Prius in the U.S. Only 12,000 vehicles are available.

2002 – Honda unveils the Honda Civic Hybrid

2003 – The second generation Toyota Prius was named the 2004 Car of the Year by Motor Trend Magazine. Over 700,000 Prius’ were sold in the U.S.

2004 – Ford introduces the Escape Hybrid, the first hybrid SUV and the first American-made hybrid. The Escape Hybrid was named the North American truck of the year in 2005.

2005 – Three hybrid SUVs, including the Lexus RX 400h, Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid are introduced. The Highlander Hybrid is considered a “muscle hybrid” because of its increased horsepower; however, it sacrifices fuel economy.

2007 – Nissan enters the hybrid market with the Altima Hybrid sold in 8 states – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California. Chevrolet also introduces the first full-size SUV hybrid that increases fuel economy by approximately 25 percent more than the conventional model.

2009 – The newly redesigned Honda Insight becomes the only hybrid option under $20,000. Toyota also introduces the 2010 Prius with the highest fuel economy of any car on the U.S. market at 50 mpg.

2010 and Beyond – In Fall 2010, GM is expected to unveil the Chevrolet Volt that is supposed to travel up to 40 miles on electric power alone. GM estimates that it will cost 2 cents per mile under batter power.

2011- Nissan dealerships started to take orders for the Nissan Leaf. Also at this time Nissan and Hertz announced that they will be adding Nissan Leafs to the rental options later in 2011.

In 2012, Toyota is expected to produce 20,000 to 30,000 Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrids which can run about 12 to 18 miles on battery power alone. Nissan predicts producing about 150,000 Nissan Leafs in their Tenn. assembly plant.

The history of hybrid cars is much longer and more involved than many first imagine. It is, however, in the last ten years or so that we, as consumers, have begun to pay more attention to the hybrid vehicle as a viable alternative driven cars. Whether looking for a way to save money on spiraling gas costs or in an attempt to help reduce the negative effects on the environment we are buying hybrid cars much more frequently.

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