History takes strange turns and comes full circle.
As you may know, one hundred years ago, early automobiles were almost equally divided between electric, steam, and petroleum powered propulsion.
A young Ferdinand Porsche developed ‘mixed propulsion’. In 1899 (another source quotes 1897) the young engineer was hired by the Austrian Lohner Carriage Company, when owner Jakob L. wanted to diversify into the new horse-less carriage production. Porsche used a gasoline engine running at a constant speed to turn a dynamo, or generator, which charged a number of accumulators, or batteries. The electrical current from these early batteries –plates in wooden boxes- powered hub motors, modified to form part of the front wheels. This system eliminated the need for a gearbox, drive shafts or chain, and a clutch. Without the mechanical friction losses, it had an amazing efficiency of 83%, as reported by a Thomas Scholz in his thesis.
The Lohner-Porsche was the sensation of the Paris World Exhibition in April of 1900, and more than 300 of these motorcars were sold. A newer model had electric hub-motors on all four wheels, reaching speeds of 110 km/h, 70 mph, not bad for 1903.
By the way, today’s commonly used term ‘motorcar’ for a vehicle with an engine is a hold-over from those early days, when electric-motor cars were the favorite mode of transportation.
During the first decade of the 1900s General Electric in America and Siemens in Germany, both produced electric cars and commercial vehicles and also hybrids. The Paris Electric Car Company made various models between 1903 and 1907.
In 1906 Emil Jellinek of Mercedes fame (he imported Benz’s cars into Austria) bought the patent for the Lohner-Porsche system. Jellinek was instrumental in the Austro-Daimler firm, hiring Porsche at the same time; Daimler then produced the “Electrique-Mixte”. (Gottlieb Daimler had licensed his engine to the Austrian and English Daimler companies, but joined with Karl Benz only in 1926))
We do not know very much about patent and copyright infringements of that time, and accurate information about some of the automotive pioneers of that era is lacking, vague or contradictory. At about that time the name Pieper pops up. One report has it, that in 1900 a Belgian introduced a 3.5 hp “voiturette” with a small gasoline engine connected to an electric motor under the seat. When ‘cruising’ along, the electric motor acted as a generator, recharging the battery. When the vehicle went uphill, the coaxial motor boosted the engine. Between 1906 and 1912, the Belgian firm Auto-Mixte built commercial vehicles using the patent of the ‘Henri-Pieper system’.
Another report has an “American engineer H. Piper” apply for a patent for the same idea in 1905. Could it be that ‘Henri’ immigrated to America? My experience with the deplorable lack of information about that time span leads me to believe this is very likely.
Does any reader have more insight (pun intended) into this? (Honda Insight was the first modern hybrid sold in North America in 2000.)