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History of Engineering: The Car

  • by: Ryan Abbot
  • On: 5, Jun 2019
3 min read

The car is one of the most important inventions in modern history. It has revolutionized how we get around, allowed millions of people to have more control over their lives, and created a billion dollar industry.

But how did the car as we know it come to be invented? And what does the future hold for the world’s most popular mode of transport?

The Invention of The Car

In 1823 English engineer Samuel Brown invented the internal combustion engine. The design was directly improved upon in 1867 by Nikolaus August Otto, who was the first to create an engine that can efficiently burn fuel directly in a piston chamber. Three years later, the first engine to run on gasoline was created, and in 1877, Otto created the four-cycle internal combustion engine, which is the basis for all modern petrol-based cars today.

In 1896 Henry Ford built his first automobile. His vision was to turn the car from an expensive plaything for the rich to a practical, affordable investment for the everyday American.

In 1913, Ford’s Model T production shot from about 7 cars per hour to 146 cars per hour thanks to an innovative production line. He created the world’s first moving assembly line, which allowed cars to be manufactured faster than all his competitors. It also meant the price of the car dropped significantly, so sales exploded. Ford soon had a 48% share of the automobile market. In 1913, the US produced 485,000 out of the world’s total of 606,000 motorcars.

The 1920s and 30s saw the rise of some of the world’s biggest manufacturers: Fiat, Citroen, and Volkswagen. However, the industry quickly began saturated, leading to intense competition. In 1908 there were 253 active automakers to just 44 in 1929.

By the 1980s, Japan had taken over as the world’s leading automaker. However, the auto industry was still a major one in the US, providing 1 in every 6 jobs.

How the Car Has Changed Over Time

Surprisingly, at the beginning of the 20th Century, around 38% of the cars in America ran on electricity. As the years went on, the gasoline powered car became more popular thanks to increased speed and range.

Learn more about how car design has changed since the turn of the century.

In 1997, Toyota unveiled its pioneering Prius design, which ran on a hybrid power supply of both electricity and gasoline, only using the fossil fuel to supplement the electric power.

This opened the door to fully electric cars, which are only growing in popularity today. Diesel sales are falling, and as environmental concerns grow more pressing, we’ll likely move to a post-fossil fuel vehicle market.

The Future Of The Car

Moving forward, the car will go through big changes over the coming decades. Whether it’s the fuel they use, the design of the body, or even if they run on roads, cars are changing faster than ever before.

Autonomous cars are disrupting the industry in a way people couldn’t have predicted twenty years ago, so both cars and the way they operate will be changing dramatically in the near future.

The history of the car is tied to the history of industry, and the future of the automotive market depends on how engineers and designers respond to the coming challenges we face as a society.

Learn why cars are getting smaller, or learn why flying cars might be here sooner than you think.

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