The Kilowatt project wasn’t the end of electric vehicles for Victor Wouk. He continued his research and came to the conclusion that batteries as a power source were not practical. Instead, he advocated a hybrid – electric motor and internal combustion engine – as the answer to America’s pressing pollution problems.
Wouk’s chance came in 1974 when the US Government promised him a $30,000 grant to design and build a prototype. He and colleague Charles Rosen purchased a Buick Skylark (chosen for its large engine bay) from General Motors. They ripped out the V8 engine and replaced it with a Mazda RX2 rotary, a 20 kW DC electric motor and several batteries.
According to Wouk, the Skylark was a great success that easily passed all the requirements laid down by the government. For reasons that were never fully explained, the US Environmental Protection Agency didn’t agree and pulled the plug on the prototype. Despite tentative expressions of interest from other car manufacturers, nothing came of the Skylark’s potential, and a couple of years later a bitter Wouk gave up.
He never lost his belief in hybrid technology, however, and as time went on, and many of his predictions came true, he received long overdue recognition for his work. He never stopped lobbying officials to restart work on hybrid technology. Wouk lived long enough to see his ideas become reality, but it was Japan, and not America, that embraced hybrids. Nevertheless, he was one of the first owners of a Toyota Prius and used it every day to drive through Manhattan.
Wouk – known as the ‘grandfather of the hybrid car in the US’ – died of lung cancer in New York on 19 May 2005.