The father of the clean car

Published: Sunday 31 July 2005

The father of the clean car

Victor wouk 1919-2005 In 1970, the us Congress passed the Clean Air Act. Besides other provisions, the act called for a motor engine that could eliminate 90 per cent of the pollutants emitted by conventional car engines. A New-York, usa- based electrical engineer took up this challenge. He modified a Buick Skylark with a rotary engine and an electric motor that supplied peak power when needed. That was the world's first hybrid car, its creator: Victor Wouk. He is no more. Wouk died of cancer at his New York home on May 19, 2005.

Wouk aspired to join the aeronautics industry as a graduate student in Columbia University, New York. In 1939, he joined the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena in pursuit of his ambition. While working on his Phd at the institute, Wouk chanced upon the idea of using of electricity to drive cars. The idea gradually became a passion: Wouk gave up his ambitions of joining the aeronautics industry and studied to become an electrical engineer, instead.

In the early 1970s he formed his own company, Petro-Electric Motors, to develop a hybrid vehicle for the us government. His long-time friend Charles Rosen combined with Wouk on the project. "We invested us $30,000 on the project. Nobody had taken a full-sized passenger car and made a hybrid out of it," Wouk said in a 2004 interview.

The car proved effective in independent lab tests. It met the strictest emission standards in the us. But quite inexplicably, it failed the us Environmental Protection Agency's tests.

Petro-Electric folded up a few years after it was formed. But Wouk continued to champion hybrid cars. He believed that the Japanese car major Toyota's 1997 introduction of a gasoline-electric car was an affirmation of his life's work.

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