Today's fuel efficiency trivia question: When was the first gas-electric hybrid car produced?
If you guessed something like 1983, you're wrong. Try much earlier.
On display at an exhibit opening Saturday at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles will be a 1917 Woods Dual Power, which had a gasoline engine coupled with an electric motor-generator, just like modern hybrid cars. Unlike the Toyota Prius, however, the Woods Dual Power was a marketing flop. Production ceased after just two years.
The name of the exhibit is "Alternative Power: Propulsion after Petroleum." It covers the history of automotive power from 1866 to the present, including steam, electric, hydrogen, solar and jet-powered vehicles. It even includes one 1938 car that was modified to run on coal gas.
"Experimentation and discovery of new technologies is what really drives the auto industry and a walk through this exhibit is an entertaining trip from the past into our future beyond petroleum," said Dick Messer, director of the museum, in a statement.
In the earliest days of automobiles, all forms of power were equally "alternative." Steam power was the favored choice of driving enthusiasts in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the book "Wheels for the World" by Douglas Brinkley, a history of the Ford Motor Company. Steam-powered cars were the fastest machines on the roads, such as they were, in those days.