Thursday, October 16, 2008

Porsche - A Pioneer in Hybrid Technology

Porsche®, a name long associated with engineering innovation, stunned the automotive world by introducing the world’s first advanced electric car – a vehicle that also led to the world’s first hybrid car. While this “green” alternative to petroleum-based transportation may be considered a mundane news story in the 21st Century when green technology announcements are a daily occurrence, a 24-year-old engineer by the name of Ferdinand Porsche developed, produced and raced such a car more than 100 years ago when horseless carriages were in their infancy.

Working for Jacob Lohner & Co. in Vienna, Austria in 1899, Ferdinand Porsche – father of Dr. Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche who in 1948 founded the Porsche high performance sports car and SUV company we know today – developed and built the world’s first automobile that used electric wheel hub motors rather than a fossil-fuel combustion engine and transmission to drive the wheels. It was called the Lohner-Porsche.

A Lohner Porsche and concept versions of the Hybrid Cayenne® SUV can be seen at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show to be held Nov. 14-25, 2007.

Ferdinand Porsche installed his patented invention, the electric wheel hub motor, directly on the front wheels. Standard output was 2.5 horsepower at 120 rpm, but they were capable of 7 horsepower each for up to 20 minutes.

This technology could provide speeds of just over 10 mph and a top speed of about 31 mph. Using a 44-cell battery with 300 ampere hours and 80 volts, Porsche’s new vehicle had a range of about 30 miles.

Hailed as “the greatest invention of the age” by one trade journal because electric wheel hub motors eliminated the need for a transmission, gears, belts, chains, differentials and other moving parts and could be produced very quickly, this drivetrain was 83 percent efficient because there was no mechanical loss due to friction. Its debut at the World’s Fair in Paris on April 14, 1900 hurdled Ferdinand Porsche to worldwide fame overnight and prompted Lohner to produce and sell well over 300 such vehicles.

Soon after, Porsche took his invention to the race track. On Sept. 23, 1900 he fitted his electric wheel hub motor car with a larger battery and set his first speed record at Semmering, covering the 6.2-mile route in less than 15 minutes with an average speed of 25.5 mph. The best internal combustion engine powered car averaged 21.5 mph.

Later that year, Porsche fitted his wheel hub motors on all four wheels, thus producing the world’s first all-wheel drive car. To give the car sufficient power and range, it required nearly 4,000 lbs. in batteries, proving to be the same challenge faced by today’s engineers. He tried to solve this dilemma by fitting the all-electric speed-record car with two De Dion Bouton gasoline engines producing current for the electric powertrain. The result was the world’s first hybrid.

He again surprised the automotive world when this new concept debuted at the 1901 Parisian Auto Salon. His design used the 3.5-horsepower combustion engines to drive dual generators to supply current to the two wheel hub motors on the front wheels. It also was possible to run the gasoline engines after start up to so that the electric motor functioned as a generator and kept the battery charged. If necessary, both the combustion engines and electric motors could be used in parallel. Porsche stepped up performance and created variations delivering 5 to 12 horsepower. And in 1902 he piloted his hybrid during trial runs at the Exelberg race, finishing first in the large-car class and third overall.

Porsche went on to develop automobiles for Austro-Daimler, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Stuttgart, and Steyr-Werke AG in Austria before forming Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH in 1931. He is most remembered as the inventor of the Volkswagen Beetle, yet his innovative work in the areas of electric and hybrid drive systems is substantial. His wheel hub motor resurfaced decades later when the concept was used to power the Lunar Rover during NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon. Today, his innovative spirit lives on at Porsche AG’s Research and Development Center in Weissach, Germany where the company is applying its engineering strength to develop hybrid systems for the Cayenne SUV and the upcoming Panamera four-door gran turismo.

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