It’s a hundred!
Well, we are not talking about cricket, but a century since the first hybrid car patent application. It is true that fuel prices have dropped from the high that it hit in 2012. Industry figures show a spurt in hybrid car purchases post 2012 following the mammoth rise in fuel costs. Despite a drop in rates per gallon over the last two years and consumers opting for bigger and less fuel-efficient vehicles, there has been a growing market for hybrid vehicles.
It is but a known fact that the Toyota Prius holds the record as the best selling hybrid car in the last couple of years. It offers a promising 50 miles per gallon, while the hybrid version of the Toyota Camry offers 41 miles per gallon. But what’s impressive is that the concept of hybrid vehicles is more than a century old.
In 1899, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche (the founder of the Porsche car brand) built the first hybrid car as an engineer with Jacob Lohner & Co. Naming it the Lohner Electric Chaise, this was the first front-wheel-drive vehicle. It came with generator-powered electric motors in the wheel hubs that offered a journey of 40 miles.
Patent follows invention
On November 23, 1905, a hundred years before, German-born inventor and Belgian gunmaker Henri Pieper applied for a patent for his hybrid vehicle design. Patent US 913846, which was granted on March 2, 1909, describes a petro-electric hybrid vehicle that uses an electric motor to assist an internal-combustion engine. The vehicle is said to accelerate to 25 miles per hour in 10 seconds, instead of the usual 18 miles. However, in the three-and-a-half year lag time between the application and the grant several engineers developed engines that could achieve this level of acceleration performance.
Disappearing act of the hybrid and its return
If hybrid vehicle inventions were dated so early on, then why did its implantation die? For one, cheap fuel prices and advancements in ICE started making hybrid cars obsolete.
However, with rising fuel costs globally, the hybrid vehicle concept returned with much gusto. Celebrated as fuel saving marvels, the hybrid car witnessed a drop in sales in the last two years thanks to lower fuel costs. The average fuel price is an average $3 a gallon today. While most automakers are manufacturing a fuel version and hybrid version of the same vehicle, the hybrid version is about $3,000 higher than its fuel-based partner. Despite the fact that the hybrid vehicle is 70% more mileage-efficient, lowered fuel costs has pushed the break-even period to about seven years.
Prius holds its prime position
Despite that, the Toyota Prius continues to enjoy a prided market stance. While the Prius is one of the most widely sold hybrid vehicles, Toyota is cashing in on the fact that the company leads in the patent landscape with the highest number of hybrid vehicle technology patents. It is no wonder that ever since the gas-electric Prius came into being, Toyota’s attorneys have been meticulously filing for patents to protect its 2,000+ components and systems and licensing them to other car makers. The third generation of the Prius alone, which is set to hit the roads in May, accounts for nearly half these patents.
Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor have already sought licenses from Toyota to create their Ford Escape and Nissan Altima hybrids. With Toyota’s aggressive patenting campaign for hybrid vehicle technologies, it wouldn’t be surprising to find other major hybrid vehicle manufacturers falling in line to sign licensing deals with the Japanese company.
While this could signal a new patent battleground set to clang and clash with infringement contentions, mergers and acquisitions, and licensing deals, the hybrid vehicle is inching towards becoming a popular mode of transportation.
(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lohner_Porsche.jpg)