Porsche's hybrid used an internal combustion engine that ran at a constant speed to turn a generator and charge the vehicle's batteries [source: Wand]. These batteries then sent electricity to motors located in the hub of the wheels. When fully charged, Porsche's hybrid allowed the vehicle to travel almost 40 miles (64.3 kilometers) [source: Hybrid Cars]. The vehicle was ahead of its time, not only as the first gas-electric hybrid, but also because it was one of the earliest examples of in-wheel motor power.
Similar to current in-wheel motor technology, Porsche's hub motors eliminated the need for a gearbox, drive shafts or chains and a clutch, which eliminated a substantial amount of mechanical friction and allowed the vehicle to use 83 percent of the energy it produced [source: Wand]. A few years later, Porsche added hub motors to all four wheels, which increased the amount of power the car had and allowed it to reach a top speed of 70 mph (112.6 kilometers per hour) [source: Wand].
Although Porsche's hybrid was the first to be designed and built, a German inventor named Henri Pieper applied for a U.S. patent on his hybrid in 1905 and received it in 1909 [Source: Hybrid Cars]. Pieper's design was similar to that of many of today's hybrids, using both the gasoline engine and the electric motor to power the vehicle when needed.
Pieper's design is very similar to the parallel hybrid system used in the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight [Source: Hybrid Cars]. A parallel system uses both the electric motor and the gasoline engine to provide power to the wheels [Source: Hybrid Center]. When the engine doesn't need assistance from the electric motor, the motor acts as a generator to help recharge the batteries, but when the vehicle needs extra power (when driving up a steep hill, for example), the electric motor acts in concert with the engine to provide power to the wheels [Source: Hybrid Center].
Now that we know who built the first hybrid vehicle and have learned about another early hybrid design, let's go onto the next page and find out why hybrid cars didn't become the primary system of choice for automobile consumers and how later developments brought the hybrid to center stage.