History of the automobile


The history of the automobile begins as early
as 1769, with the creation of steam engined automobiles capable of human transport. In
1807, François Isaac de Rivaz designed the first car powered by an internal combustion
engine running on fuel gas, which — although not in itself successful — led to the introduction
of the ubiquitous modern gasoline- or petrol-fueled internal combustion engine in 1885.
The year 1886 is regarded the year of birth of the modern automobile – with the Benz Patent-Motorwagen,
by German inventor Karl Benz. Cars that are powered by electric power briefly
appeared at the turn of the 20th century but largely disappeared from use until the turn
of the 21st century. The early history of the automobile can be divided into a number
of eras, based on the prevalent means of propulsion. Later periods were defined by trends in exterior
styling, size, and utility preferences. Eras of invention
Early automobiles Steam-powered wheeled vehicles 17th century – 18th century
Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China, built the first steam-powered vehicle
around 1672 as a toy for the Chinese Emperor. It was of small enough scale that it could
not carry a driver but it was, quite possibly the first working steam-powered vehicle. Steam-powered self-propelled vehicles large
enough to transport people and cargo were first devised in the late 18th century. Nicolas-Joseph
Cugnot demonstrated his fardier à vapeur, an experimental steam-driven artillery tractor,
in 1770 and 1771. As Cugnot’s design proved to be impractical, his invention was not developed
in his native France. The centre of innovation shifted to Great Britain. By 1784, William
Murdoch had built a working model of a steam carriage in Redruth, and in 1801 Richard Trevithick
was running a full-sized vehicle on the roads in Camborne. Such vehicles were in vogue for
a time, and over the next decades such innovations as hand brakes, multi-speed transmissions,
and better steering developed. Some were commercially successful in providing mass transit, until
a backlash against these large speedy vehicles resulted in the passage of the Locomotive
Act, which required self-propelled vehicles on public roads in the United Kingdom to be
preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn. This effectively killed
road auto development in the UK for most of the rest of the 19th century; inventors and
engineers shifted their efforts to improvements in railway locomotives.
The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789.
19th century Among other efforts, in 1815, a professor
at Prague Polytechnic, Josef Bozek, built an oil-fired steam car. Walter Hancock, builder
and operator of London steam buses, in 1838 built a four-seat steam phaeton.
In 1867, Canadian jeweller Henry Seth Taylor demonstrated his 4-wheeled “steam buggy” at
the Stanstead Fair in Stanstead, Quebec, and again the following year. The basis of the
buggy, which he began building in 1865, was a high-wheeled carriage with bracing to support
a two-cylinder steam engine mounted on the floor.
What some people define as the first “real” automobile was produced by French Amédée
Bollée in 1873, who built self-propelled steam road vehicles to transport groups of
passengers. The American George B. Selden filed for a
patent on May 8, 1879. His application included not only the engine but its use in a 4-wheeled
car. Selden filed a series of amendments to his application which stretched out the legal
process, resulting in a delay of 16 years before the US 549160  was granted on November
5, 1895. Karl Benz, the inventor of numerous car-related
technologies, received a German patent in 1886.
The four-stroke petrol internal combustion engine that constitutes the most prevalent
form of modern automotive propulsion is a creation of Nikolaus Otto. The similar four-stroke
diesel engine was invented by Rudolf Diesel. The hydrogen fuel cell, one of the technologies
hailed as a replacement for gasoline as an energy source for cars, was discovered in
principle by Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1838. The battery electric car owes its
beginnings to Ányos Jedlik, one of the inventors of the electric motor, and Gaston Planté,
who invented the lead-acid battery in 1859. The first carriage-sized automobile suitable
for use on existing wagon roads in the United States was a steam powered vehicle invented
in 1871, by Dr. J.W. Carhart, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in Racine,
Wisconsin. It induced the State of Wisconsin in 1875, to offer a $10,000 award to the first
to produce a practical substitute for the use of horses and other animals. They stipulated
that the vehicle would have to maintain an average speed of more than five miles per
hour over a 200 mile course. The offer led to the first city to city automobile race
in the United States, starting on July 16, 1878, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and ending
in Madison, via Appleton, Oshkosh, Waupun, Watertown, Fort Atkinson, and Janesville.
While seven vehicles were registered, only two started to compete: the entries from Green
Bay and Oshkosh. The vehicle from Green Bay was faster, but broke down before completing
the race. The Oshkosh finished the 201 mile course in 33 hours and 27 minutes, and posted
an average speed of six miles per hour. In 1879, the legislature awarded half the prize.
Steam-powered automobiles continued development all the way into the early 20th century, but
the dissemination of petrol engines as the motive power of choice in the late 19th century
marked the end of steam automobiles except as curiosities. Whether they will ever be
reborn in later technological eras remains to be seen. The 1950s saw interest in steam-turbine
cars powered by small nuclear reactors, but the dangers inherent in nuclear fission technology
soon killed these ideas. The need for global changes in energy sources and consumption
to bring about sustainability and energy independence has led 21st century engineers to think once
more about possibilities for steam use, if powered by modern energy sources controlled
with computerized controls, such as advanced electric batteries, fuel cells, photovoltaics,
biofuels, or others. Electric automobiles In 1828, Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian who invented
an early type of electric motor, created a tiny model car powered by his new motor. In
1834, Vermont blacksmith Thomas Davenport, the inventor of the first American DC electrical
motor, installed his motor in a small model car, which he operated on a short circular
electrified track. In 1835, Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of Groningen, the Netherlands and
his assistant Christopher Becker created a small-scale electrical car, powered by non-rechargeable
primary cells. In 1838, Scotsman Robert Davidson built an electric locomotive that attained
a speed of 4 miles per hour. In England, a patent was granted in 1840 for the use of
rail tracks as conductors of electric current, and similar American patents were issued to
Lilley and Colten in 1847. Between 1832 and 1839 Robert Anderson of Scotland invented
the first crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
The Flocken Elektrowagen of 1888 by German inventor Andreas Flocken is regarded as the
first real electric car of the world. Electric cars enjoyed popularity between the
late 19th century and early 20th century, when electricity was among the preferred methods
for automobile propulsion, providing a level of comfort and ease of operation that could
not be achieved by the gasoline cars of the time. Advances in internal combustion technology,
especially the electric starter, soon rendered this advantage moot; the greater range of
gasoline cars, quicker refueling times, and growing petroleum infrastructure, along with
the mass production of gasoline vehicles by companies such as the Ford Motor Company,
which reduced prices of gasoline cars to less than half that of equivalent electric cars,
led to a decline in the use of electric propulsion, effectively removing it from important markets
such as the United States by the 1930s. However, in recent years, increased concerns over the
environmental impact of gasoline cars, higher gasoline prices, improvements in battery technology,
and the prospect of peak oil, have brought about renewed interest in electric cars, which
are perceived to be more environmentally friendly and cheaper to maintain and run, despite high
initial costs, after a failed reappearance in the late-1990s.
Internal combustion engines Early attempts at making and using internal
combustion engines were hampered by the lack of suitable fuels, particularly liquids, therefore
the earliest engines used gas mixtures. Early experimenters used gases. In 1806, Swiss
engineer François Isaac de Rivaz built an engine powered by internal combustion of a
hydrogen and oxygen mixture. In 1826, Englishman Samuel Brown who tested his hydrogen-fuelled
internal combustion engine by using it to propel a vehicle up Shooter’s Hill in south-east
London. Belgian-born Etienne Lenoir’s Hippomobile with a hydrogen-gas-fuelled one-cylinder internal
combustion engine made a test drive from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont in 1860, covering some
nine kilometres in about three hours. A later version was propelled by coal gas. A Delamare-Deboutteville
vehicle was patented and trialled in 1884. About 1870, in Vienna, Austria, inventor Siegfried
Marcus put a liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine on a simple handcart which made him
the first man to propel a vehicle by means of gasoline. Today, this car is known as “the
first Marcus car”. In 1883, Marcus secured a German patent for a low-voltage ignition
system of the magneto type; this was his only automotive patent. This design was used for
all further engines, and the four-seat “second Marcus car” of 1888/89. This ignition, in
conjunction with the “rotating-brush carburetor”, made the second car’s design very innovative.
It is generally acknowledged that the first really practical automobiles with petrol/gasoline-powered
internal combustion engines were completed almost simultaneously by several German inventors
working independently: Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885 in Mannheim. Benz
was granted a patent for his automobile on 29 January 1886, and began the first production
of automobiles in 1888, after Bertha Benz, his wife, had proved – with the first long-distance
trip in August 1888, from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back – that the horseless coach was absolutely
suitable for daily use. Since 2008 a Bertha Benz Memorial Route commemorates this event.
Soon after, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart in 1889 designed a vehicle from
scratch to be an automobile, rather than a horse-drawn carriage fitted with an engine.
They also are usually credited with invention of the first motorcycle in 1886, but Italy’s
Enrico Bernardi of the University of Padua, in 1882, patented a 0.024 horsepower 122 cc
one-cylinder petrol motor, fitting it into his son’s tricycle, making it at least a candidate
for the first automobile, and first motorcycle;. Bernardi enlarged the tricycle in 1892 to
carry two adults. One of the first four-wheeled petrol-driven
automobiles in Britain was built in Birmingham in 1895 by Frederick William Lanchester, who
also patented the disc brake; and the first electric starter was installed on an Arnold,
an adaptation of the Benz Velo, built between 1895 and 1898.
George F. Foss of Sherbrooke, Quebec built a single-cylinder gasoline car in 1896 which
he drove for 4 years, ignoring city officials’ warnings of arrest for his “mad antics.”
In all the turmoil, many early pioneers are nearly forgotten. In 1891, John William Lambert
built a three-wheeler in Ohio City, Ohio, which was destroyed in a fire the same year,
while Henry Nadig constructed a four-wheeler in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It is likely they
were not the only ones. Veteran era The first production of automobiles was by
Karl Benz in 1888 in Germany and, under license from Benz, in France by Emile Roger. There
were numerous others, including tricycle builders Rudolf Egg, Edward Butler, and Léon Bollée.
Bollée, using a 650 cc engine of his own design, enabled his driver, Jamin, to average
45 kilometres per hour in the 1897 Paris-Tourville rally. By 1900, mass production of automobiles
had begun in France and the United States. The first motor car in Central Europe was
produced by Czech company Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau in 1897, the Präsident automobil. The first
company formed exclusively to build automobiles was Panhard et Levassor in France, which also
introduced the first four-cylinder engine. Formed in 1889, Panhard was quickly followed
by Peugeot two years later. By the start of the 20th century, the automobile industry
was beginning to take off in Western Europe, especially in France, where 30,204 were produced
in 1903, representing 48.8% of world automobile production that year. In the United States, brothers Charles and
Frank Duryea founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1893, becoming the first American
automobile manufacturing company. However, it was Ransom E. Olds and his Olds Motor Vehicle
Company who would dominate this era of automobile production. Its production line was running
in 1902. The Thomas B. Jeffery Company developed the world’s second mass-produced automobile,
and 1,500 Ramblers were built and sold in its first year, representing one-sixth of
all existing motorcars in the U.S. at the time. Within a year, Cadillac, Winton, and
Ford were also producing cars in the thousands. Within a few years, a dizzying assortment
of technologies were being produced by hundreds of producers all over the western world. Steam,
electricity, and petrol/gasoline-powered automobiles competed for decades, with petrol/gasoline
internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s. Dual- and even quad-engine cars
were designed, and engine displacement ranged to more than a dozen litres. Many modern advances,
including gas/electric hybrids, multi-valve engines, overhead camshafts, and four-wheel
drive, were attempted, and discarded at this time.
In 1898, Louis Renault had a De Dion-Bouton modified, with fixed drive shaft and differential,
making “perhaps the first hot rod in history” and bringing Renault and his brothers into
the car industry. Innovation was rapid and rampant, with no clear standards for basic
vehicle architectures, body styles, construction materials, or controls. Many veteran cars
use a tiller, rather than a wheel for steering. During 1903, Rambler standardized on the steering
wheel and moved the driver’s position to the left-hand side of the vehicle. Most cars were
operated at a single speed. Chain drive was dominant over the drive shaft, and closed
bodies were extremely rare. Drum brakes were introduced by Renault in 1902. The next year,
Dutch designer Jacobus Spijker built the first four-wheel drive racing car; it never competed
and it would be 1965 and the Jensen FF before four-wheel drive was used on a production
car. Innovation was not limited to the vehicles
themselves, either. Increasing numbers of cars propelled the growth of the petroleum
industry, as well as the development of technology to produce gasoline and of improvements in
heat-tolerant mineral oil lubricants. There were social effects, also. Music would
be made about cars, such as “In My Merry Oldsmobile” while, in 1896, William Jennings Bryan would
be the first presidential candidate to campaign in a car, in Decatur, Illinois. Three years
later, Jacob German would start a tradition for New York City cabdrivers when he sped
down Lexington Avenue, at the “reckless” speed of 12 mph. Also in 1899, Akron, Ohio, adopted
the first self-propelled paddy wagon. By 1900, the early centers of national automotive
industry developed in many countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, Vagnfabrik AB in Sweden,
Hammel, Irgens, Italy, and as far afield as Australia. Meanwhile, the export trade had
begun, with Koch exporting cars and trucks from Paris to Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, and the
Dutch East Indies. On 5 November 1895, George B. Selden was granted
a United States patent for a two-stroke automobile engine. This patent did more to hinder than
encourage development of autos in the U.S. Selden licensed his patent to most major American
automakers, collecting a fee on every car they produced. The Studebaker brothers, having
become the world’s leading manufacturers of horse-drawn vehicles, made a transition to
electric automobiles in 1902, and gasoline engines
in 1904, but also continued to build horse-drawn vehicles until 1919. In 1908, the first South
American automobile was built in Peru, the Grieve. Motor cars were also exported very
early to British colonies and the first motor car was exported to India in 1897.
Throughout the veteran car era, however, the automobile was seen more as a novelty than
as a genuinely useful device. Breakdowns were frequent, fuel was difficult to obtain, roads
suitable for traveling were scarce, and rapid innovation meant that a year-old car was nearly
worthless. Major breakthroughs in proving the usefulness of the automobile came with
the historic long-distance drive of Bertha Benz in 1888, when she traveled more than
80 kilometres from Mannheim to Pforzheim, to make people aware of the potential of the
vehicles her husband, Karl Benz, manufactured, and after Horatio Nelson Jackson’s successful
transcontinental drive across the United States in 1903.
The 1908 New York to Paris Race was the first circumnavigation of the world by automobile.
German, French, Italian and American teams began in New York City February 12, 1908 with
three of the competitors ultimately reaching Paris. The US built Thomas Flyer with George
Schuster won the race covering 22,000 miles in 169 days. While other automakers provided
motorists with tire repair kits, Rambler was first in 1909 to equip its cars with a spare
tire that was mounted on a fifth wheel. Brass or Edwardian era Named for the widespread use of brass in the
United States, the Brass Era lasted from roughly 1905 through to the beginning of World War
I in 1914. Within the 15 years that make up this era,
the various experimental designs and alternate power systems would be marginalised. Although
the modern touring car had been invented earlier, it was not until Panhard et Levassor’s Système
Panhard was widely licensed and adopted that recognisable and standardised automobiles
were created. This system specified front-engined, rear-wheel drive internal combustion engined
cars with a sliding gear transmission. Traditional coach-style vehicles were rapidly abandoned,
and buckboard runabouts lost favour with the introduction of tonneaus and other less-expensive
touring bodies. By 1906, steam car development had advanced,
and they were among the fastest road vehicles in that period.
Throughout this era, development of automotive technology was rapid, due in part to hundreds
of small manufacturers competing to gain the world’s attention. Key developments included
the electric ignition system, independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes. Leaf springs
were widely used for suspension, though many other systems were still in use, with angle
steel taking over from armored wood as the frame material of choice. Transmissions and
throttle controls were widely adopted, allowing a variety of cruising speeds, though vehicles
generally still had discrete speed settings, rather than the infinitely variable system
familiar in cars of later eras. Safety glass also made its debut, patented by John Wood
in England in 1905. Between 1907 and 1912 in the United States,
the high-wheel motor buggy was in its heyday, with over seventy-five makers including Holsman,
IHC, and Sears; the high-wheeler would be killed by the Model T. In 1912, Hupp and BSA
pioneered the use of all-steel bodies, joined in 1914 by Dodge. While it would be another
two decades before all-steel bodies would be standard, the change would mean improved
supplies of superior-quality wood for furniture makers.
Some examples of cars of the period included: 1908–1927 Ford Model T — the most widely
produced and available 4-seater car of the era. It used a planetary transmission, and
had a pedal-based control system. Ford T was proclaimed as the most influential car of
the 20th century in the international Car of the Century awards.
1909 Morgan Runabout – a very popular cyclecar, cyclecars were sold in far greater quantities
than 4-seater cars in this period 1910 Mercer Raceabout — regarded as one
of the first sports cars, the Raceabout expressed the exuberance of the driving public, as did
the similarly conceived American Underslung and Hispano-Suiza Alphonso.
1910–1920 Bugatti Type 13 — a notable racing and touring model with advanced engineering
and design. Similar models were the Types 15, 17, 22, and 23. Vintage era The vintage era lasted from the end of World
War I, through the Wall Street Crash at the end of 1929. During this period, the front-engined
car came to dominate, with closed bodies and standardised controls becoming the norm. In
1919, 90% of cars sold were open; by 1929, 90% were closed. Development of the internal
combustion engine continued at a rapid pace, with multi-valve and overhead camshaft engines
produced at the high end, and V8, V12, and even V16 engines conceived for the ultra-rich.
Also in 1919, hydraulic brakes were invented by Malcolm Loughead; they were adopted by
Duesenberg for their 1921 Model A. Three years later, Hermann Rieseler of Vulcan Motor invented
the first automatic transmission, which had two-speed planetary gearbox, torque converter,
and lockup clutch; it never entered production. Just at the end of the vintage era, tempered
glass was invented in France. In this era the revolutionary ponton design of cars without
fully articulated fenders, running boards and other non-compact ledge elements was introduced
in small series but a mass production of such cars was started much later.
Between 1922 and 1925 the number of US passenger car builders decreased from 175 to 70. H.
A. Tarantous, managing editor of MoToR Member Society of Automotive Engineers, in a New
York Times article from 1925 gave this explanation: Many manufacturers were unable to “keep pace
with the bigger production units” and falling prices, especially for the “lower-priced car,
commonly called the coach”. Apart from the higher demand for smaller cars, Tarantous
mentions the “pyroxylin finish”, the eight cylinder engine, the four wheel brakes and
balloon tires as the biggest trends for 1925. Exemplary vintage vehicles:
1922–1939 Austin 7 — the Austin Seven was one of the most widely copied vehicles
ever, serving as a template for cars around the world, from BMW to Nissan.
1922–1931 Lancia Lambda — very advanced car for the time, first car to feature a load-bearing
monocoque-type body and independent front suspension.
1924–1929 Bugatti Type 35 — the Type 35 was one of the most successful racing cars
of all time, with over 1,000 victories in five years.
1925–1928 Hanomag 2 / 10 PS — early example of ponton styling.
1927–1931 Ford Model A — after keeping the brass era Model T in production for too
long, Ford broke from the past by restarting its model series with the 1927 Model A. More
than 4 million were produced, making it the best-selling model of the era. The Ford Model
A was a prototype for the beginning of Soviet mass car production.
1930 Cadillac V-16 — developed at the height of the vintage era, the V16-powered Cadillac
would join Bugatti’s Royale as the most legendary ultra-luxury cars of the era. Pre-WWII era The pre-war part of the classic era began
with the Great Depression in 1930, and ended with the recovery after World War II, commonly
placed at 1946. It was in this period that integrated fenders and fully closed bodies
began to dominate sales, with the new saloon/sedan body style even incorporating a trunk or boot
at the rear for storage. The old open-top runabouts, phaetons, and touring cars were
phased out by the end of the classic era as wings, running boards, and headlights were
gradually integrated with the body of the car.
By the 1930s, most of the mechanical technology used in today’s automobiles had been invented,
although some things were later “re-invented”, and credited to someone else. For example,
front-wheel drive was re-introduced by André Citroën with the launch of the Traction Avant
in 1934, though it had appeared several years earlier in road cars made by Alvis and Cord,
and in racing cars by Miller. In the same vein, independent suspension was originally
conceived by Amédée Bollée in 1873, but not put in production until appearing on the
low-volume Mercedes-Benz 380 in 1933, which prodded American makers to use it more widely.
In 1930, the number of auto manufacturers declined sharply as the industry consolidated
and matured, thanks in part to the effects of the Great Depression.
Exemplary pre-war automobiles: 1932–1939 Alvis Speed 20 — the first with
all-synchromesh gearbox 1932–1948 Ford V-8 — introduction of the
flathead V8 in mainstream vehicles 1934–1938 Tatra 77 — first serial-produced
car with aerodynamical design 1934–1940 Bugatti Type 57 — a singular
refined automobile for the wealthy 1934–1956 Citroën Traction Avant — the
first mass-produced front-wheel drive car, built with monocoque chassis
1936–1955 MG T series — sports cars 1938–2003 Volkswagen Beetle — a design
that was produced for over 60 years with over 20 million units assembled in several counties
1936–1939 Rolls-Royce Phantom III — V12 engine Post-war era Since World War II automobile design experienced
the total revolution changes to ponton style, one of the first representatives of that were
the Soviet GAZ-M20 Pobeda, British Standard Vanguard, U.S. Studebaker Champion and Kaiser,
as well as the low-production Czech luxury Tatra T600 Tatraplan and the Italian Cisitalia
220 sports car. Automobile design and production finally emerged
from the military orientation and other shadow of war in 1949, the year that in the United
States saw the introduction of high-compression V8 engines and modern bodies from General
Motors’ Oldsmobile and Cadillac brands. Hudson introduced the “step-down” design with the
1948 Commodore, which placed the passenger compartment down inside the perimeter of the
frame and was one of the first new-design postwar cars made. The unibody/strut-suspended
1951 Ford Consul joined the 1948 Morris Minor and 1949 Rover P4 in the automobile market
in the United Kingdom. In Italy, Enzo Ferrari was beginning his 250 series, just as Lancia
introduced the revolutionary V6-powered Aurelia. Throughout the 1950s, engine power and vehicle
speeds rose, designs became more integrated and artful, and automobiles were marketed
internationally. Alec Issigonis’ Mini and Fiat’s 500 diminutive cars were introduced
in Europe, while the similar kei car class became popular Japan. The Volkswagen Beetle
continued production after Hitler and began exports to other nations, including the U.S.
At the same time, Nash introduced the Nash Rambler, the first successful modern compact
car made in the U.S., while the standard models produced by the “Big Three” domestic automakers
grew ever larger in size, featured increasing amounts of chrome trim, and luxury was exemplified
by the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. The markets in Europe expanded with new small-sized automobiles,
as well as expensive grand tourers, like the Ferrari America.
The market changed in the 1960s, as the U.S. “Big Three” automakers began facing competition
from imported cars, the European makers adopted advanced technologies, and Japan emerged as
a car-producing nation. The success American Motors’ compact-sized Rambler models spurred
GM and Ford to introduce their own downsized cars in 1960. Performance engines became a
focus of marketing by U.S. automakers, exemplified by the era’s muscle cars. In 1964, the Ford
Mustang developed a new market segment, the pony car. New models to compete with the Mustang
included the Chevrolet Camaro, AMC Javelin, and Plymouth Barracuda. Captive imports and
badge engineering increased in the U.S. and the UK as amalgamated groups such as the British
Motor Corporation consolidated the market. BMC’s space-saving Mini, which first appeared
in 1959, became popular and were marketed under the Austin and Morris names, until Mini
became a marque in its own right in 1969. Competition increased, with Studebaker, a
pioneering automaker, shutting down as the trend for consolidation reached Italy where
niche makers like Maserati, Ferrari, and Lancia were acquired by larger companies. By the
end of the decade, the number of automobile marques had been greatly reduced.
Technology developments included the widespread use of independent suspensions, wider application
of fuel injection, and an increasing focus on safety in automotive design. Innovations
during the 1960s included NSU’s Wankel engine, the gas turbine, and the turbocharger. Of
these, only the last, pioneered by General Motors, and incorporated by BMW and Saab,
but later saw mass-market use during the 1980s by Chrysler. Mazda focused on developing its
Wankel engine, which had problems in longevity, emissions, and fuel economy. Other Wankel
licensees, including Mercedes-Benz and GM, never put their designs into production because
of engineering and manufacturing problems, as well as the lessons from the 1973 oil crisis.
The 1970s were turbulent years for automakers and buyers with major events reshaping the
industry such as the 1973 oil crisis, stricter automobile emissions control and safety requirements,
increasing exports by the Japanese and European automakers, as well as growth in inflation
and the stagnant economic conditions in many nations. Smaller-sized grew in popularity.
The U.S. saw the establishment of the subcompact segment with the introduction of the AMC Gremlin,
followed by the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto. The station wagons body design was popular,
as well as increasing sales of non-commercial all-wheel drive off-road vehicles.
To the end of the 20th century, the U.S. Big Three partially lost their leading position,
Japan became for a while the world’s leader of car production and cars began to be mass
manufactured in new Asian, East European, and other countries.
Notable exemplary post-war cars: 1946–1958 GAZ-M20 Pobeda — Soviet car
with full ponton design 1947–1958 Standard Vanguard — British
mass-market car with full ponton design 1948–1971 Morris Minor – an early post-war
car exported around the world 1953–1971 Chevrolet Bel Air and 1953–2002
Cadillac Eldorado Brougham – first generations were representative of tailfin design
1955–1976 Citroën DS — aerodynamic design and innovative technology, awarded third place
as Car of the 20th Century 1959–2000 Mini — a radical and innovative
small car that was manufactured for four decades; awarded second place as Car of the 20th Century
1961–1975 Jaguar E-type — a classic sports car design
1963–1989 Porsche 911 – a sports car was awarded fifth place as Car of the 20th Century
1964–present Ford Mustang — the pony car that became one of the best-selling cars of
the era 1966–end of the 20th century Fiat 124 — an
Italian car that was produced under license in many other counties including the Soviet
Union 1967 NSU Ro 80 — the basic wedge profile
of this design was emulated in subsequent decades, unlike its Wankel engine
1969 Datsun 240Z — Japanese sports car Modern era The modern era is normally defined as the
25 years preceding the current year. However, there are some technical and design aspects
that differentiate modern cars from antiques. The modern era has been one of increasing
standardisation, platform sharing, and computer-aided design.
Some particular contemporary developments are the proliferation of front- and all-wheel
drive, the adoption of the diesel engine, and the ubiquity of fuel injection. Most modern
passenger cars are front-wheel-drive monocoque/unibody designs, with transversely mounted engines.
Body styles have changed as well in the modern era. Three types, the hatchback, sedan, and
sport utility vehicle, dominate today’s market. All originally emphasised practicality, but
have mutated into today’s high-powered luxury crossover SUV, sports wagon, two-volume Large
MPV. The rise of pickup trucks in the United States, and SUVs worldwide, has changed the
face of motoring, with these “trucks” coming to command more than half of the world automobile
market. There was also the introduction of MPV class, among the first of which were the
French Renault Espace and the Chrysler minivan versions in the U.S.
The modern era has also seen rapidly rising fuel efficiency and engine output. The automobile
emissions concerns have been eased with computerised engine management systems.
The economic crisis of 2008 cut almost a third of light vehicle sales from Chrysler, Toyota,
Ford, and Nissan. It also subtracted about a fourth of Honda’s sales and about a seventh
of sales from General Motors. Since 2009, China has become the world’s leading
car manufacturer with production greater than Japan, the United States, and all of Europe.
Besides large growth of car production in Asian and other countries, there has been
growth in transnational corporate groups, the production of transnational automobiles
sharing the same platforms, as well as badge engineering or re-badging to suit different
markets and consumer segments. Since the end of the 20th century, several
award competitions of cars and trucks have become widely known, such as European Car
of the Year Car of the Year Japan, North American Car of the Year, World Car of the Year, Truck
of the Year, and International Car of the Year, so that vehicles of different classes,
producers, and countries win alternately. Also, Car of the Century awards were held,
in which in the US the Ford Model T was named as most influential car of the 20th century.
Exemplary modern cars: 1966–present Toyota Corolla – a Japanese
saloon/sedan that has become the best-selling car of all time
1966-1992 Oldsmobile Toronado – Introduced electronic anti-lock braking system and airbag
1973–present Mercedes-Benz S-Class – Seat belt pretensioner, and electronic traction
control system 1975–present BMW 3 Series – the 3 Series
has been on Car and Driver magazine’s annual Ten Best list 17 times
1977–present Honda Accord saloon/sedan — a Japanese sedan that became popular in the
U.S. 1983–present Chrysler minivans – the two-box
minivan design nearly pushed the station wagon out of the market
1984–present Renault Espace — first mass one-volume car of non-commercial MPV class
1986–present Ford Taurus — this mid-sized front-wheel drive sedan dominated the U.S.
market in the late-1980s 1997–present Toyota Prius, launched in the
Japanese market and has now become the best known hybrid electric vehicle
1998–present Ford Focus — one of the most popular hatchbacks and Ford’s best selling
world car 2008–present Tata Nano — an inexpensive,
rear-engined, four-passenger city car aimed primarily at the Indian domestic market
2008-2012 Tesla Roadster — first highway-capable all-electric vehicle in serial production
for sale in the U.S. in the modern era 2010–present, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet
Volt — all-electric car and plug-in hybrid correspondingly, launched in the U.S. and
Japanese markets becoming the first mass production vehicles of their kind
See also Automotive industry – information on current
production and companies History of the internal combustion engine
Motocycle Timeline of motor vehicle brands
Timeline of North American automobiles References Further reading External links
Automuseum Dr. Carl Benz, Ladenburg/Germany Bertha Benz Memorial Route
University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – Transportation photographs
Digital collection depicting various modes of transportation in the Pacific Northwest
region and western USA during the first half of the 20th century.
History of the automobile on About.com:Inventors site
History of Automobile Air Conditioning on NYC.net
Automotive History – An ongoing photographic history of the automobile.
Taking the Wheel, Manufacturers’ catalogs from the first decade of American automobiles

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