Los Angeles, at the end of the 1990s: where the rich and famous made themselves important in the Porsche, the Prius is suddenly very popular.
Because with it Toyota has established the hybrid drive from gasoline and electric motor.
Long before the run on all-electric cars, the Prius is a glimpse of another world.
The Prius has shaken up the market: Not always that easy, and it has not conquered the world from California without resistance.
With many imitators, the hybrid drive has established itself as the third drive variant alongside petrol and diesel.
25 years later, however, the technology has developed in various directions.
But how does it work?
And how do the concepts differ?
Mild hybrids rely on electric starter generators
The so-called mild hybrid is the youngest, but already the most widespread hybrid technology down to the compact class.
According to Audi spokesman Udo Rügheimer, it relies on an electric starter generator.
It is installed instead of the alternator and jumps to the side of the gasoline or diesel engine.
Usually fed from an on-board network with a voltage increased to 48 volts, this electric motor has an output of 15 kW / 20 hp and up to 200 Newton meters of torque in the Mercedes, for example.
That is not enough for electric driving, but it has some advantages: The e-machine helps when starting, it can convert more kinetic energy when braking and store it in an additional battery.
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Because it can stop the engine and restart it, the passive phases of the automatic start-stop system are extended and the drive is switched off more often.
"This saves up to 0.8 liters per 100 kilometers in everyday life," quotes Rügheimer from the test results of the Audi engineers.
In the classic hybrid, the battery and electric motor are more powerful
The classic hybrid drive, as it has been known since the Prius, differs from the mild hybrid in two main ways: According to Toyota, the electric motor is significantly more powerful and the battery is larger.
This is why conventional hybrid models can drive purely electrically over short distances and at moderate speeds, for example in traffic jams or in city traffic.
The engineers argue that this can at least relieve the environment locally.
The battery is charged with kinetic energy when braking.
Instead of converting this completely into heat on the brake discs, the polarity of the electric motor is reversed to become a generator.
When braking, it recovers at least some of the energy that can then be used for the next electrical journey.
Widely used in the USA and Japan, this type of drive is no longer particularly popular in Germany.
Their mostly short electric journeys no longer qualify them for subsidies.
Plug-in hybrid: the car is plugged into the socket
The plug-in hybrid benefits in particular from this.
It is noticeably developing into the new standard among alternative drives.
The electric motor gets stronger, the battery bigger and there is a socket connection for charging, explains Hans-Georg Marmit from the expert organization KÜS.
“It's like an electric car with a network and a false floor,” he says.
"You can stream sections of the road at motorway speed and only need the combustion engine at full throttle or on long journeys."
Electric ranges of sometimes more than 50 kilometers and speeds of up to 130 kilometers per hour are sufficient for most commuters.
The technology offers another advantage: if the electric motor is not integrated into the automatic transmission, as is usually the case, but instead is mounted as a separate module on the rear axle, front-wheel drive vehicles also drive on all fours.
For example, the Mini Countryman comes as a plug-in hybrid with all-wheel drive.
And with Jeep they go even further: "The technology works so well that we have taken the mechanical all-wheel drive out of the program without further ado," says spokesman Markus Hauf, referring to the so-called 4xe models from Compass and Renegade.
The short-distance electricity providers are subsidized by the state.
And thanks to a favorable calculation formula for consumption, they are an effective means for manufacturers to reduce their CO2 footprint.
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The technology is now widespread in the compact class.
There are also cars like VW Golf, Skoda Octavia or Kia XCeed with a power connection.
And in the luxury class, the manufacturers are upgrading: If the new Mercedes S-Class is also launched as a plug-in hybrid in the course of spring, it should have an electric range of over 100 kilometers, according to chief engineer Jürgen Weissinger .
And with the McLaren Artura, the plug-in hybrid is conquering the world of sports cars.
Combustion as a range extender
In the past, experts regarded hybrid drives mostly only as an intermediate step and bridging technology to electric drives.
And even the boom in plug-in technology is threatened with an end if batteries are cheaper or subsidies are cut.
But the double heart models could last even longer.
Because where previously most of the work for the drive was still on the combustion engine, BMW turned the tables for a while with the i3.
Until a few years ago, a gasoline engine was offered on board as a so-called range extender.
The motor has no connection to the wheels.
But it generates so much electricity via a generator that the batteries empty more slowly.
The i3 has to be plugged in less often.
Mazda spokesman Jochen Münzinger has already confirmed a similar concept for the MX-30.
The Japanese even want to revive the rotary engine for him.
The pioneer of this movement, however, only follows this development from the parking lot.
Because even if the Prius is undisputedly considered the trailblazer of hybrid technology, its fame has now faded.
In Los Angeles, the rich and famous have long been driving Tesla.
And in Germany, Toyota even sent the pioneer into early retirement.
Last summer, according to Toyota spokesman Thomas Schalberger, the Japanese took all versions off the market with the exception of the plug-in hybrid.
"Because the technology has now become so natural and so widespread in all of our models that you no longer need your own car."
Pioneering achievement in a rather inconspicuous packaging: The Toyota Prius is considered to be the first car with hybrid technology in large-scale production