Lifestyle Guides

The history of the hybrid car

We explore how hybrid cars have grown from a 19th century concept to the modern day green vehicle we see on today’s roads


Hybrid cars may have recently rocketed in popularity, with our research finding that enquiries for hybrid car insurance have risen 243% in the last seven years, but this type of car has actually been around for more than 100 years. 

In this piece, to celebrate our campaign around eco-friendly cars, we explore how this humble motor has grown from a 19th century concept to the modern day green vehicle we see on today’s roads.

The origins of the hybrid car

The first ever hybrid car was invented in 1898 by Dr Ferdinand Porsche, who combined both electric and petrol elements into one engine for a prototype coach. Dr Porsche designed this coach using fuel to generate power for four electric motors (one for each wheel), and in the process accidentally creating the first hybrid engine concept for a car (above). 

Quick to follow in Dr Porsche’s footsteps, American car company Electric Vehicle Company, then introduced two hybrid cars a year later at the 1899 Paris Auto Salon. 

This was the start of hybrid technology in cars, as many manufacturers continued to work on the concept of combining electricity and fuel to power cars. 

Hybrid vs. fuel - the early days

Sadly for the hybrid car, it was brought to market at an unfortunate time. At the start of the 20th century as more hybrid cars were being built, Henry Ford started mass-producing his famous fuel-powered cars. These were far cheaper to buy than the hybrid model, and the hybrid began to be overlooked. 

Car manufacturers continued to attempt to launch hybrid cars until 1920, when it was clear the hybrid was not going to beat the affordable petrol and diesel powered cars that were also available. The manufacturing of hybrid cars then lay dormant for the next 45 years, as diesel and petrol cars took over thanks to their convenience and affordability.

Hybrid cars hit the market


Hybrid cars then took a backseat in car manufacturing until the 1990s, when their popularity started to creep into the car market once more. Toyota, was the first to break the market and introduced the Toyota Prius to the public in 1997. 

This was swiftly followed by Hondas Insight, launched in America and Japan two years later, in 1999. Both models featured a petrol engine that was used to power a generate an electric motor, allowing the car to run on dual efforts. 

Nowadays, the market for hybrid cars is a multi-billion pound industry, with more people choosing to ‘go green’ with their vehicles. 

In fact, most of the major car companies have recognised the trend for a more eco-friendly approach, and have launched their own version of the hybrid car. BMW has even brought a sporty element to hybrids by launching its 'Plug-in hybrid' series, making hybrid cars much less conventional-looking and more fun. 

How hybrid cars help the environment

More than 100 years on from Dr Porsche’s original invention, hybrid car technology is now widespread throughout the industry. The success of the modern day hybrid is largely down to the environmental qualities it holds. 

With the main focus for modern motorists being greener, it is no surprise the hybrid car is, once again, having its day. A modern hybrid car will produce around 9kgs of carbon dioxide in the air for every 100 miles you drive, compared to a whopping 34kgs from a standard fuel car. Imagine that over a lifetime of the average car – it soon adds up! 

As well as being kind to the environment, hybrid cars are also kind on your wallet with the cost of re-fuelling being kept at a minimum per mile. The average hybrid car can go an average 10.25 miles per litre of fuel, whilst a standard fuel powered car will go seven miles per litre. That may not seem like a big difference but every mile counts, and an extra three per litre will go a long way.

Going green for your next car

If you’re considering a hybrid car for your next motor, we’re here to help. As part of our eco-conscious campaign, we’ve created a eco-friendly car comparison tool which uses data on car emissions and fuel efficiency to compare cars, and show you which models are best for the environment, and best for you.