The fathers of the hybrid car
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The fathers of the hybrid car

Guess what kind of car Charles Rosen drives

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Charles Rosen stands in his Teaneck garage, where he still keeps an electrical engine used in the actual prototype car. Jerry Szubin

Charles Rosen, 82, of Teaneck, who – with Victor Wouk – helped create one of the earliest practical prototypes of a hybrid car, doesn’t drive a hybrid. He drives a Honda Civic.

His explanation: “It’s a matter of cost.”

In his Teaneck garage, Rosen still keeps an electrical engine – an alternate for the internal-combustion engine used in the actual prototype car.

After the Environmental Protection Agency, in one of the most colossally dopey decisions ever made by a government agency, turned down the Wouk-Rosen prototype, Rosen gave up his auto-research activities and went to work as a management consultant.

Why did Erik Stork and the EPA turn down the Wouk-Rosen car?

Says Rosen, “They didn’t believe in it. There were an awful lot of kooky ideas being proposed, and they lumped us with the kooks.”

Was that turndown his biggest disappointment in life? No. That was his finally realizing that a hybrid would not be economically feasible until gas prices reached $1.50 a gallon.

He and Wouk were working independently on a hybrid car when they decided to pool their efforts and not compete. “We got along well,” he says. “Victor was an outgoing guy, and he and Herman had lots of contacts. I liked him very, very much.”

Rosen grew up in the Bronx, graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and City College, and then obtained his doctorate from Brooklyn Polytechnic.

Before joining Gulton Industries in Metuchen, he worked at the Argonne National Laboratories in Lemont, Ill., AVCO Corporation in Wilmington, Mass., and the GCA Company in Bedford, Mass.

He’s been married to his wife, Marcia, for 56 years. They have three children: a dermatologist, an economist who’s an adviser to the Federal Reserve in Chicago, and the founder of a medical records company in Andover. A granddaughter, Rebecca, works for the Anti-Defamation League in New York City. A sister-in-law, Beverly Rosen, runs an office in Vienna for Asian Jews relocating to Israel.

Why did the Rosens come to Teaneck 40-odd years ago?

“Because it was integrated. It was one of the truly balanced communities in the country.” (In a historic act, Teaneck voted in 1965 to integrate its schools.)

What he’s doing these days is marketing a computer program to help companies improve the quality of their products and service – by distinguishing between what’s important and what isn’t. “Separating the chaff from the wheat,” he says. “It might be the next Google.”

No, his garage, where the prototype was invented, is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rosen uses it for storage, not for a car.

A final question: Where is the prototype hybrid now? Is it in the Smithsonian?

Said Rosen, “I lost track of it.”

For an account by Rosen of the genesis of the hybrid car, go to jstandard.com.

W.B.

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