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Porsche’s hybrids have come full circle

03/06/2024 by Mark Schneider in Technology

Right now, hybrids are hot, with sales on the rise as people search for a vehicle offering better fuel economy with the convenience and familiarity of an internal combustion engine, without all that range anxiety. They seem like a thoroughly modern answer to the existential challenge of climate change, and rising carbon emissions, but you might be surprised to learn that there’s nothing new about hybrids.

In fact, hybrids go back a long, long way. The first hybrid appeared at the turn of the century, and no, we’re not talking about this century, we’re talking about the last century – to 1899 in fact!

Back then, the horseless carriage was still a rare and unusual new-fangled invention trundling down roads knee deep in horse poo. There was fierce competition between steam powered vehicles, electric ones, and internal combustion vehicles powered by petrol. Into this scene stepped a motoring name destined for fame – one Ferdinand Porsche.

Porsche was a mainly self-taught engineer who was fascinated by electricity. He moved to Vienna at just 18 and started work with Bela Egger & Co, the forerunner of the multinational corporation ABB. The young mechanic rose to the head of the business’s testing department in just four years, and designed his first vehicle with electric drive. Porsche developed the first electric wheel hub motor, and even raced a vehicle with the system in 1897.

At the age of 23, Porsche moved on and took a job at the Jacob Lohner factory, where he was employed to develop electric powertrains for coaches. His first prototypes featured two-wheel hub-mounted motors driving the front wheels putting out 1.9 to 2,6 kW, and 5.2kW in short bursts.

“Lohner-Porsche” system

In those early days of motoring the “Lohner-Porsche” system, as it was known, offered the advantage of extended range over competing pure electric vehicles. The first production vehicle, the four-wheel-drive Lohner-Porsche Mixte, had one big disadvantage, however, and that was weight – almost two tonnes of it in fact, which was pushed along by a puny power output.

The release of the system was accompanied by a concerted push in European newspapers. A custom coach, the La Toujours Contente (French for ‘always satisfied’) followed for a Mr E.W. Hart in London. The beast weighed a whopping four tonnes with its 44 cell, 80-volt lead acid battery.

Large commercial vehicle use

It may have been innovative, but the system proved too expensive for everyday use. However, it did find its way into larger commercial vehicles, such as double-decker busses and fire engines, and even the funeral coach of Archduke France Ferdinand, whose assassination sparked the beginning of World War 1.

Porsche’s series hybrid system never totally disappeared. It still lives on as the concept behind many diesel-electric trains.

Porsche’s hybrid cars are thriving today in spectacular form. The Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid, with its 400kW of power, 290km/h top speed, and 3.7-second 0-100km/h time, has come a long, long way from those pioneering Porsche electric motors and hybrid vehicles. But in a curious twist of motoring history, the famed German vehicle maker has also come full circle.

Written by
Mark Schneider

Mark is a successful copywriter with over 20 years of professional writing experience.

We welcome him as a guest blogger to Fleettorque.

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