In the wake of the Iranian revolution, a second oil crisis gripped the western world, and with the first production hybrid car still two decades away, automakers rushed to come to terms with high gas prices. But the idea of hybrid vehicles is nothing new, and one of the concepts to come out of the oil crunch was a hybrid taxi version of the Volkswagen Type II bus.
Jalopnik came across this forgotten design in the Complete Book of Electric Vehicles, and the hybrid Volkswagen bus described in its pages matches the idea behind many hybrid vehicles today. A standard 50 horsepower Volkswagen 1600 cc air-cooled engine was paired with a Bosch electric motor and a bank of 11 lead-acid batteries, providing comparable driving range and fuel economy (about 20 MPG) to many vehicles of the day.
Once the electricity from the battery packs was drained, the gas engine could act as a generator, motivate the Volkswagen independently of the electric motor, or work in conjunction with the electric motor for a double dose of power. Even with both powerplants pushing the hybrid van along acceleration was pretty pathetic, taking more than 30 seconds to reach 60 MPH, and top speed was only 65 MPH.
This hybrid Volkswagen Type II wasn’t about speed though, it was about bringing new life to an old idea. Officially called the Volkswagen Hybrid-Electric City Taxi, Vdub intended for this concept to replace the gas-guzzling and largely uncomfortable taxis found in many European and American cities. Big comfy seats, bulletproof glass separating the driver and passengers, and an automatic sliding door all made for a much cooler livery vehicle than your standard Checker Cab. Volkswagen wasn’t alone with its hybrid concepts either, as both Mercedes-Benz and BMW trotted out their own hybrid vehicles around the same time.
Alas, the idea of a gas-electric car was dropped by the mid-80s by most automakers, in part because of the low-range, heavy batteries, but also because other innovations like fuel injection and overdrive functionality in transmissions simply made more fiscal sense. Imagine if you will though where hybrid and electric car technology might be today if automakers had committed to it 20 years earlier. We’d probably already have the 400-mile EVs Volkswagen has been hyping up.
If only, if only…