So what are those two gentlemen doing in that strange looking vehicle and why are they (rather uncomfortably) doing it? The two Porsche executives are driving a reconstructed Semper Vivus (Always Alive), the world's first hybrid, designed and built 111 years ago by Professor Ferdinand Porsche. The original Semper Vivus was a series electric hybrid with its two engines charging the batteries and Porsche electric hub motors delivering the power. Porsche's press department tells us that the "Semper Vivus was the first dual-power vehicle in the history of mankind." Very impressive but not quite correct if you consider the early steamships that combined both wind and steam power, dating back to the 1830s.
Of course the reason why Porsche built the "new" Semper Vivus, and displayed it at the Geneva Auto Show, was to promote its all-new hybrid, the 2012 Panamera S, and what better way than to declare that "we did it first." This four-year labor of love by a team of in-house craftsmen at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart is a fully functional clone of the original. The hub-drive motors in each front wheel are powered by a 44-cell lead-acid battery pack charged by using two on-board generators spun by a pair of 2.5-horsepower De Dion Bouton gasoline engines. Each motor/generator operates independently and can produce about 2.7 horsepower.
The Semper Vivus was actually a further evolution of the Lohner Porsche, an electric car that made its first appearance at the 1900 Paris World Exposition. Porsche sold variations of the Lohner from 1902 to 1906. Like Edison and many other pioneers Ferdinand Porsche was a believer in electricity as the best source of energy for an automobile but like the rest, he was stymied by the lack of range provided by batteries of the period. He saw the hybrid as a possible solution but unfortunately it took a century for his advanced ideas to reach fruition. Now that the company bearing his name has come out in favor of electric cars, the reconstructed Semper Vivus is a nice way of honouring his genius.
Click here to see a video on Autoblog of the Semper Vivus in action at Geneva.