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Ferdinand Porsche was 100 years ahead of his time with his 1900 hybrid

In 1900, Porsche designed the world’s first functional hybrid car, the “Semper Vivus” (Latin for “always alive”). Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

It was 2010, at the famed Nürburgring, motor sports complex in Germany, when the first hybrid racer, the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid, debuted. In 2015, based on lessons learned on the 911, Porsche AG fielded an endurance racer, the 919 Hybrid, which took the first of three victories in a row at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. With all that success, you might think Porsche had discovered some new technology, but Porsche started with a hybrid way back in 1900. Yes, 1900.

Ferdinand Porsche, later the founder of the company of the same name, was fascinated by electricity even as a teenager. As early as 1893, the 18-year-old installed an electric lighting system in his parents’ house. That same year, Porsche joined Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG Béla Egger in Vienna. After four years there, he progressed from mechanic to head of the testing department.

While there, Porsche designed the Egger-Lohner Phaeton, which boasted an octagonal electric motor, in 1898.  The Phaeton could reach 18 miles per hour and had a very limited range

The electric wheel hub motor was the next innovation by Porsche, in 1899. At the Paris Expo the following year, the Lohner-Porsche Electromobile debuted. The vehicle had a higher top speed of 23 miles per hour, however the range continued to limit the appeal of hybrid technology.

The Lohner-Porsche also demonstrated why electric mobility has failed over the decades: Despite its modest power output, the car weighed almost two tons. The lack of infrastructure and the short range put an end to electromobility for a long time.

One hundred years later, with the development of lithium-ion batteries suitable for use in vehicles and more stringent legal requirements for carbon dioxide emissions, the focus turned once more to electric drive systems. With the Cayenne S Hybrid in 2010, Porsche paved the way for electromobility in the 21st century.

Now, Porsche has entered the FIA Formula E race series with a newly developed powertrain. Here too, the close interaction of racing and series development ensures smooth feedback. Somewhere Ferdinand Porsche is smiling.

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