Skoda: 250-YEAR QUEST FOR THE IDEAL DRIVE

The automotive industry is on the cusp of the Electrical Age. The powering of cars with electricity is nothing new, having previously cropped up elsewhere in history. Much like other alternative drives. This is because designers have been grappling with the question of what makes for the best form of drive for at least 250 years now.

This article is based on a lecture from the series “Unusual Stories from ŠKODA History”, organised by the ŠKODA Museum. The lecture on the history of vehicle drives was written by ŠKODA archive coordinator Lukáš Nachtmann

Even though no one was in any doubt, in the first decade of the 20th century, that the petrol internal combustion engine was the future, designers still worked on other solutions. In the early 1930s, these endeavours spawned the first automobiles with diesel units. High taxes and fuel shortages during the economic crisis and the war years steered engineers towards experiments with natural gas.

LAURIN & KLEMENT test vehicle from 1919, featuring a gas generator that ran on charcoal

LAURIN & KLEMENT test vehicle from 1919, featuring a gas generator that ran on charcoal

Czech designers also proved to be resourceful. As early as 1919, a LAURIN & KLEMENT freight vehicle with a gas generator was produced. Then there was the 256 G van boasting a 2.5-tonne payload, with a six-cylinder engine to deliver ample power of 60 PS. Both superstructures and integrated solutions were thought up, and not only for freight vehicles. Alternative drives were also found in ŠKODA tractors.

 

The ŠKODA 256 G, factory-converted to run on wood gas, had a generator discreetly incorporated behind the cab and offered more-than-ample power of 60 PS.

During the fuel crisis in the 1930s and 1940s, gas generators using either cheap and widely available wood or coal gas (a coking plant by-product) as a source were even mounted in passenger vehicles. ŠKODA made prototypes of the RAPID with a generator either at the front or at the back. Initially, these auxiliary units were clunky and obvious, but subsequent prototypes concealed gas-drive components within the bodywork, resulting in a stylistically elegant car fit for everyday use.

The scarcity of fuel during the crisis and, subsequently, the war prompted the design of several RAPIDs fitted with a gas generator.

The electrically powered LAURIN & KLEMENT type E was introduced in 1908 thanks to the renowned Czech designer and inventor František Križík, the man behind the arc lamp and the innovator of electrically propelled trams. Using a car from Mladá Boleslav, he built a vehicle with a system that we might describe as hybrid: a petrol engine produced electric power, which subsequently drove the car.

A compact ŠKODA truck used in Plzen to deliver beer to local restaurants was another attempt at introducing electricity into vehicles. At the end of the 1930s, this vehicle with a payload of between 1.5 and 3 tonnes featured a modern, comfortable and broad cab over the engine, i.e. in front of the front axle, with an aerodynamic front section and an arrowhead-shaped split windscreen.

The ŠKODA electric truck from the late 1930s was distinguished by its modern design and payload of up to 3 tonnes.

The ŠKODA Puck, a children’s car produced in 1941, was a unique electric vehicle available in two sizes – for smaller and bigger children. Interestingly, the design was very faithful to actual automobiles. This mini-car had an ignition switch, a working speedometer, headlamps that lit up, and suspension on all wheels. The Scintilla electric motor could generate speeds of up to 12 km/h, with energy sourced from Varta-Ferak batteries under the bonnet and behind the seats.

The ŠKODA Puck, a children’s car produced in 1941, was a unique electric vehicle.

 

ŠKODA Puck: The Scintilla electric motor could generate speeds of up to 12 km/h, with energy sourced from Varta-Ferak batteries under the bonnet and behind the seats.

Of ŠKODA’s other prototypes and experiments with electric propulsion, it is worth mentioning the trial series of second-generation OCTAVIAs called Green e-Line. Though a latecomer in the brand’s electric history, this model stands out as a modern design that, built on the technical base we are familiar with today, paved the way to a new era. These cars were an opportunity for ŠKODA to explore, in practice, what electricity could offer in the future. They were fitted with an 85 kW electric motor and batteries delivering a practical range of around 150 km.

ŠKODA’s other prototype and experiment: the trial series of second-generation OCTAVIAs called Green e-Line

Nine years down the line, ŠKODA unveiled its first mass-produced models with electric motors: the all-electric CITIGOe iV and the SUPERB iV plug-in hybrid.

The flagship SUPERB – electrified version and the brand’s first mass-produced electric car CITIGOe iV