It started with the first Arab oil embargo in 1973. Suddenly, America didn’t have access to cheap gasoline any more and the term “gas guzzler” first began appearing in news reports. Signs that said “NO GAS” became a regular part of the landscape as drivers fought to get a few precious drops of gasoline. The federal government imposed the first ever fuel economy standards on automakers. From then on, ads for new cars would focus on miles per gallon instead of cubic inches.
After that first oil embargo, Exxon created a research division under the umbrella of its venture capital group known as Exxon Enterprises, Inc, or EEI. The goal was to find an alternative to the gasoline engine. For a brief moment in time, Exxon — soon to become the largest oil company in history — was at the forefront of automotive research. Its goal was to create the world’s first hybrid car, a vehicle that would couple an electric motor with a small gasoline engine to get fuel economy unheard of until that time.
The goal was to enable a large American car like the Chrysler Cordoba (older readers will remember it as the car that featured “fine Corinthian leather”) to get 27 miles per gallon — approximately double what the regular production car was capable of.