When was the first car in?
Development of the automobile started in 1672 with the invention of the first steam-powered vehicle, which led to the creation of the first steam-powered automobile capable of human transportation, built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769. Inventors began to branch out at the start of the 19th century, creating the de Rivas engine, one of the first internal combustion engines, and an early electric motor. Samuel Brown later tested the first industrially applied internal combustion engine in 1826.
Development was hindered in the mid-19th century by a backlash against large vehicles, yet progress continued on some internal combustion engines. The engine evolved as engineers created two- and four-cycle combustion engines and began using gasoline as fuel. The first modern car—a practical, marketable automobile for everyday use—and the first car put into series production appeared in 1886, when Carl Benz developed a gasoline-powered automobile and made several identical copies. Later automobile production was marked by the Ford Model T, created by the Ford Motor Company in 1908, which became the first automobile to be mass-produced on a moving assembly line.
The early history of the automobile was concentrated on the search for a reliable portable power unit to propel the vehicle.
Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China, built a steam-powered vehicle around 1672 as a toy for the Kangxi Emperor. It was small-scale and could not carry a driver but it was, quite possibly, the first working steam-powered vehicle ('auto-mobile').
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 ("steam dray"), 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 center 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.
During the 19th century, attempts were made to introduce steam-powered vehicles. Innovations such as hand brakes, multispeed transmissions and better steering developed. Some successful vehicles provided mass transit until a backlash against these large vehicles resulted in the passage of legislation such as the UK Locomotives Act 1865, which required many self-propelled vehicles on public roads to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn. This effectively halted road auto development in the United Kingdom for most of the rest of the 19th century; inventors and engineers shifted their efforts to improvements in railway locomotives. The law was not repealed until 1896, although the need for the red flag was removed in 1878.
In 1816, a professor at Prague Polytechnic, Josef Bozek, built an oil-fired steam car.: 27 Walter Hancock, builder and operator of London steam buses, in 1838 built a two-seated car phaeton.: 27
In 1867, Canadian jeweler Henry Seth Taylor demonstrated his four-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. In 1873, Frenchman Amédée Bollée built self-propelled steam road vehicles to transport groups of passengers.
The first 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 US$10,000 (equivalent to $266,485 in 2022) award to the first to produce a substitute for the use of horses and other animals. They stipulated that the vehicle would have to maintain an average speed of more than 8 km/h (5 mph) over a 320 km (200 mi) course. The offer led to the first city to city automobile race in the United States, starting on 16 July 1878 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and ending in Madison, Wisconsin, 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 323 km (201 mi) course in 33 hours and 27 minutes and posted an average speed of 9.7 km/h (6 mph). In 1879, the legislature awarded half the prize.
Steam-powered road vehicles, both cars and wagons, reached the peak of their development in the early 1930s with fast-steaming lightweight boilers and efficient engine designs. Internal combustion engines also developed greatly during World War I, becoming simpler to operate and more reliable. The development of the high-speed diesel engine from 1930 began to replace them for wagons, accelerated in the UK by tax changes making steam wagons uneconomic overnight. Although a few designers continued to advocate steam power, no significant developments in the production of steam cars took place after Doble in 1931.
Whether steam cars will ever be reborn in later technological eras remains to be seen. Magazines such as Light Steam Power continued to describe them into the 1980s. The 1950s saw interest in steam-turbine cars powered by small nuclear reactors (this was also true of aircraft), but the fears about the dangers inherent in nuclear fission technology soon killed these ideas.
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 electric 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 6.4 km/h (4 mph). In England, a patent was granted in 1840 for the use of tracks as conductors of electric current, and similar American patents were issued to Lilley and Colten in 1847.
Sources point to different creations as the first electric car. Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain) Robert Anderson of Scotland invented a crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. In November 1881, French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a working three-wheeled car powered by electricity at the International Exposition of Electricity. English inventor Thomas Parker, who was responsible for innovations such as electrifying the London Underground, overhead tramways in Liverpool and Birmingham, and the smokeless fuel coalite, built an electric car in London in 1884, using his own specially designed high-capacity rechargeable batteries. However, some others regard the Flocken Elektrowagen of 1888 by German inventor Andreas Flocken as the first true electric car.
Electric cars enjoyed popularity between the late 19th century and early 20th century, when electricity was among the preferred methods for automobile propulsion. 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 US by the 1930s. 1997 saw the Toyota RAV4 EV and the Nissan Altra, the first production battery electric cars to use NiMH and Li-ion batteries (instead of heavier lead acid) respectively.
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.
The lack of suitable fuels, particularly liquids, hampered early attempts at making and using internal combustion engines—therefore some of the earliest engines used gas mixtures. In 1806, the Swiss engineer François Isaac de Rivaz built an engine powered by internal combustion of a hydrogen and oxygen mixture. In 1826, Englishman Samuel Brown tested his hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine by using it to propel a vehicle up Shooter's Hill in southeast London. Etienne Lenoir's automobile with a hydrogen-gas-fueled one-cylinder internal combustion engine made a test drive from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont in 1860, covering some 9 km (5.6 mi) in about three hours. A later version was propelled by coal gas. A Delamare-Deboutteville vehicle was patented and trialed in 1884.
The use of autogas (LPG) or natural gas in vehicles can become sporadically popular—often depending on the supply and cost of gasoline.
Nicolaus Otto and Eugen Langen had built a working engine in 1867. About 1870, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, inventor Siegfried Marcus put a liquid-fueled internal combustion engine on a simple handcart which made him the first man to propel a vehicle by means of gasoline. Today, this is known as "the first Marcus car" but would be better described as a cart. His second car, built and run in 1875, was the first petrol driven car and is housed at the Vienna Technial Museum. In 1883, Marcus secured a German patent for a low-voltage ignition system of the magneto type; this was his only automotive patent. During his lifetime, he was honored by some as the originator of the motorcar but his place in history was all but erased by the Nazis during World War II. Because Marcus was of Jewish descent, the Nazi propaganda office ordered his work to be destroyed, his name expunged from future textbooks, and his public memorials removed. John Nixon of the London Times in 1938 considered Marcus' development of the motor car to have been experimental, as opposed to Carl Benz who took the concept from experimental to production. Nixon described Marcus' cars as impractical.
Benz built his first automobile, the Benz Patent Motorcar, in 1885 in Mannheim. It is considered the first modern car—a practical, marketable automobile for everyday use—and the first car put into series production. 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 capable of extended travel. 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 1885.: 26
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.: 25
The first four-wheeled petrol-driven automobile in the United Kingdom was built in Walthamstow by Frederick Bremer in 1892. Another was made in Birmingham in 1895 by Frederick William Lanchester, who also patented the disc brake. The first electric starter was installed on an Arnold, an adaptation of the Benz Velo, built in Kent between 1895 and 1898.: 25
George Foote Foss of Sherbrooke, Quebec built a single-cylinder gasoline car in 1896 which he drove for four years, ignoring city officials' warnings of arrest for his "mad antics".
The American George B. Selden filed for a patent on 8 May 1879. His application included not only the engine but its use in a four-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 patent was granted on 5 November 1895. Selden licensed his patent to most major American automakers, collecting a fee on each car they produced and creating the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. The Ford Motor Company fought this patent in court, and eventually won on appeal. Henry Ford testified that the patent did more to hinder than encourage development of autos in the United States.
The first production of automobiles was by Carl 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.: 20–23 Bollée, using a 650 cc (40 cu in) engine of his own design, enabled his driver, Jamin, to average 45 km/h (28 mph) in the 1897 Paris-Tourville rally.: 23 By 1900, mass production of automobiles had begun in France and the United States.
The first company formed exclusively to build automobiles was Panhard et Levassor in France, which also introduced the first four-cylinder engine.: 22 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 percent of world automobile production that year.
Across the northern US, local mechanics experimented with a wide variety of prototypes. In the state of Iowa, for example, by 1890 Jesse O. Wells drove a steam-powered Locomobile. There were numerous experiments in electric vehicles driven by storage batteries. First users ordered the early gasoline-powered cars, including Haynes, Mason, and Duesenberg automobiles. Blacksmiths and mechanics started operating repair and gasoline stations. In Springfield, Massachusetts, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1893, becoming the first American automobile manufacturing company. The Autocar Company, founded in 1897, established a number of innovations still in use and remains the oldest operating motor vehicle manufacturer in the US. However, it was Ransom E. Olds and his Olds Motor Vehicle Company (later known as Oldsmobile) who would dominate this era with the introduction of the Oldsmobile Curved Dash. Its production line was running in 1901. 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 US at the time. Within a year, Cadillac (formed from the Henry Ford Company), Winton, and Ford were also producing cars in the thousands. In South Bend, Indiana, 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. They continued to build horse-drawn vehicles until 1919.
The first motor car in Central Europe was produced by the Austro-Hungarian company Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau (later renamed to Tatra in today's Czech Republic) in 1897, the Präsident automobile. 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; for example, 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. Chain drive was dominant over the drive shaft, and closed bodies were extremely rare. Drum brakes were introduced by Renault in 1902.: 62 The next year, Dutch designer Jacobus Spijker built the first four-wheel drive racing car;: 77 it never competed and it would be 1965 and the Jensen FF before four-wheel drive was used on a production car.: 78
Within a few years, a dizzying assortment of technologies were being used 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 by the 1910s. Dual- and even quad-engine cars were designed, and engine displacement ranged to more than 12 L (3.2 US gal). Many modern advances, including gas/electric hybrids, multi-valve engines, overhead camshafts, and four-wheel drive, were attempted and discarded at this time.
Innovation was not limited to the vehicles themselves. Increasing numbers of cars propelled the growth of the petroleum industry,: 60–61 as well as the development of technology to produce gasoline (replacing kerosene and coal oil) and of improvements in heat-tolerant mineral oil lubricants (replacing vegetable and animal oils).: 60
There were social effects, also. Music would be made about cars, such as "In My Merry Oldsmobile" (a tradition that continues) while, in 1896, William Jennings Bryan would be the first presidential candidate to campaign in a car (a donated Mueller), in Decatur, Illinois.: 92 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 19 km/h (12 mph).: 92 Also in 1899, Akron, Ohio, adopted the first self-propelled paddy wagon.: 92
By 1900, the early centers of national automotive industry developed in many countries, including Belgium (home to Vincke, that copied Benz; Germain, a pseudo-Panhard; and Linon and Nagant, both based on the Gobron-Brillié),: 25 Switzerland (led by Fritz Henriod, Rudolf Egg, Saurer, Johann Weber, and Lorenz Popp),: 25 Vagnfabrik AB in Sweden, Hammel (by A. F. Hammel and H. U. Johansen at Copenhagen, in Denmark, which only built one car, ca. 1886: 25 ), Irgens (starting in Bergen, Norway, in 1883, but without success),: 25–26 Italy (where FIAT started in 1899), and as far afield as Australia (where Pioneer set up shop in 1898, with an already archaic paraffin-fueled center-pivot-steered wagon). Meanwhile, the export trade had begun, with Koch exporting cars and trucks from Paris to Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, and the Dutch East Indies.: 25 Motor cars were also exported to British colonies, for example, the first was shipped to India in 1897.
Throughout the veteran car era, 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 km (50 mi) 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 US in 1903 on a Winton car. Many older cars made were made with an assembly line that would help mass-produce cars, a system that continues to be used because of its efficiency.
The Brass or Edwardian period lasted from roughly 1905 through 1914 and the beginning of World War I. It is generally referred to as the Edwardian era, but in the United States is often known as the Brass era from the widespread use of brass in vehicles during this time.
Within the 15 years that make up this era, the various experimental designs and alternate power systems would be marginalized. 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 recognizable and standardized automobiles were created. This system specified front-engine, rear-wheel drive internal combustion-engine cars with a sliding gear transmission. Traditional coach-style vehicles were rapidly abandoned, and buckboard runabouts lost favor 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.: 27 : 61 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 Crewe Wood in England in 1905.: 62 (It would not become standard equipment until 1926, on a Rickenbacker.): 62
Between 1907 and 1912 in the United States, the high-wheel motor buggy (resembling the horse buggy of before 1900) was in its heyday, with over 75 makers including Holsman (Chicago), IHC (Chicago), and Sears (which sold via catalog); the high-wheeler would be killed by the Model T.: 65 In 1912, Hupp (in the US, supplied by Hale & Irwin) and BSA (in the UK) pioneered the use of all-steel bodies,: 63 joined in 1914 by Dodge (who produced Model T bodies).: 62 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.
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 12 February 1908 with three of the competitors ultimately reaching Paris. The US-built Thomas Flyer with George Schuster (driver) won the race covering 35,000 km (22,000 mi) in 169 days. Also in 1908, the first South American automobile was built in Peru, the Grieve. In 1909, Rambler became the first car company to equip its cars with a spare tire that was mounted on a fifth wheel.
Some examples of cars of the period included:
The vintage era lasted from the end of World War I (1918), through to the Wall Street Crash at the end of 1929. During this period the front-engine car came to dominate with closed bodies and standardized controls becoming the norm. In 1919, 90 percent of cars sold were open; by 1929, 90 percent were closed.: 7 Development of the internal combustion engine continued at a rapid pace, with multivalve and overhead camshaft engines produced at the high end, and V8, V12, and even V16 engines conceived for the ultrarich. Also in 1919, hydraulic brakes were invented by Malcolm Loughead (cofounder of Lockheed); they were adopted by Duesenberg for their 1921 Model A.: 62 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.: 62 (It would only become an available option in 1940.): 62 Just at the end of the vintage era, tempered glass (now standard equipment in side windows) was invented in France.: 62 In this era the revolutionary pontoon design of cars without fully articulated fenders, running boards and other noncompact ledge elements was introduced in small series but mass production of such cars was started much later (after WWII).
American auto companies in the 1920s expected they would soon sell six million cars a year but did not do so until 1955. Numerous companies disappeared. 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, suggested many were unable to raise production and cope with falling prices (due to assembly line production), especially for lowpriced cars. The new pyroxylin-based paints, eight-cylinder engine, four-wheel brakes, and balloon tires as the biggest trends for 1925.
Examples of period vehicles:
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 during 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 largely 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 (and may have appeared as early as 1897). In the same vein, the 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.: 61 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.
Examples of pre-war automobiles:
A major change in automobile design since World War II was the popularity of pontoon style, in which running boards were eliminated and fenders were incorporated into the body. Among the first representatives of the style were the Soviet GAZ-M20 Pobeda (1946), British Standard Vanguard (1947), US Studebaker Champion, and Kaiser (1946), as well as the Czech Tatra T600 Tatraplan (1946) and the Italian Cisitalia 220 sports car (1947).
Automobile design and production finally emerged from the military orientation and other shadow of war in 1949, the year that in the US saw the introduction of high-compression V8 engines and modern bodies from General Motors's 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, that was one of the first new-design postwar cars made and featured trend-setting slab-side styling. The unibody/strut-suspended 1951 Ford Consul joined the 1948 Morris Minor and 1949 Rover P4 in the automobile market in the UK. 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's Mini and Fiat's 500 diminutive cars were introduced in Europe, while the similar kei car class became popular in Japan. The Volkswagen Beetle continued production after World War II and began exports to other nations, including the US. At the same time, Nash introduced the Nash Rambler, the first successful modern compact car made in the US, while the standard models produced by the "Big Three" domestic automakers grew ever larger in size, featuring 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 (GT), like the Ferrari America.
The market changed in the 1960s, as the US "Big Three" automakers began facing competition from imported cars, the European makers adopted advanced technologies and Japan emerged as a car-producing nation. Japanese companies began to export some of their more popular selling cars in Japan internationally, such as the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Corona, Nissan Sunny, and Nissan Bluebird in the mid-1960s. The success of American Motors's compact-sized Rambler models spurred GM and Ford to introduce their own downsized cars in 1960. Performance engines became a focus of marketing by US 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 US and the UK as amalgamated groups such as the British Motor Corporation consolidated the market. BMC's space-saving and trend-setting transverse engine, front-wheel-drive, independent suspension and monocoque bodied Mini, which first appeared in 1959, was 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, and 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 endured, pioneered by General Motors, and adopted by BMW and Saab, later seeing mass-market use during the 1980s by Chrysler. Mazda continued developing its Wankel engine, in spite of 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 cars grew in popularity. During the Malaise era, the US saw the establishment of the subcompact segment with the introduction of the AMC Gremlin, followed by the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto. The station wagon (estate, break, kombi, universal) body design was popular, as well as increasing sales of noncommercial all-wheel drive off-road vehicles.
Toward the end of the 20th century, the US Big Three (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) 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.
Examples of postwar cars:
The modern era is normally defined as the 40 years preceding the current year. The modern era has been one of increasing standardization, platform sharing, and computer-aided design—to reduce costs and development time—and of increasing use of electronics for both engine management and entertainment systems.
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 or 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 emphasized practicality, but have mutated into today's high-powered luxury crossover SUV, sports wagon, and two-volume Large MPV. The rise of pickup trucks in the US 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 the MPV class (smaller noncommercial passenger minivans), among the first of which were the French Renault Espace and the Chrysler minivan versions in the US.
The modern era has also seen rapidly improving fuel efficiency and engine output. The automobile emissions concerns have been eased with computerized engine management systems.
The financial crisis of 2007–2008 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 largest car manufacturer with production greater than Japan, the US, and all of Europe. Besides the increasing car production in Asian and other countries, there has been growth in transnational corporate groups, with the production of transnational automobiles sharing the same platforms as well as badge engineering or rebadging to suit different markets and consumer segments.
Since the end of the 20th century, several award competitions for 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.
Examples of modern cars:
Iconic modern cars include:
Working out who invented the car is a long and winding road, and pinpointing a single person responsible is not a simple matter. If you rewind the development of cars past GPS, past antilock brakes and automatic transmissions and even past the Model T, eventually you'll get to the Benz Motor Car No. 1, the missing link between cars and horse-drawn buggies.
Karl Benz patented the three-wheeled Motor Car, known as the "Motorwagen," in 1886. It was the first true, modern automobile, meaning Benz is most often identified as the man who invented the car. Benz also patented his own throttle system, spark plugs, gear shifters, a water radiator, a carburetor and other fundamentals to the automobile. Benz eventually built a car company that still exists today as the Daimler Group.
Benz patented the first gasoline-powered car, but he wasn't the original visionary of self-propelled vehicles. Some highlights in the history of the car:
"The word 'car' has meant different things at different times. At the end of the 19th Century, a car was a “streetcar” i.e. a tram. Streetcars before that were 'horse cars' which were omnibuses pulled by horses on rails. The word 'car' became available to what was previously called a 'horseless carriage' or possibly a motor car. The 'automobile', as they call it in America, was itself an import from the French," Tom Standage, author of "A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next" (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021) told All About History magazine.
Vital to the modern automobile is the internal combustion engine. This type of engine uses an explosive combustion of fuel to push a piston within a cylinder. The piston's movement turns a crankshaft that is connected to the car's wheels of a drive shaft. Like the car itself, the internal combustion engine has a long history. An incomplete list of developments includes:
"We generally think of the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen as the first proper car. Carl Benz built an entirely new vehicle around an internal combustion engine and used bicycle parts to do it. It was really a motorized bicycle so this is what makes the car interesting. Its innovation required lots of people to try different things and, although this seems obvious in retrospect, it wasn’t at the time," said Standage.
Electric cars were available in the middle of the 19th century, but fell out of favor after Henry Ford developed his Model T, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In recent years, electric cars have made a comeback, though. Around 535,000 electric cars were sold in the United States in 2021, according to CNBC. This technology, like the internal combustion engine, also has a long history that is difficult to point to one inventor.
Two inventors are typically credited with independently inventing the first electric car: Robert Anderson, a Scottish inventor, and Thomas Davenport, an American inventor, in the 1830s, according to AutomoStory. The first rechargeable battery was invented in 1865 by Gaston Plante, a French physicist, which replaced the non-rechargable batteries used in early models of the electric car. A few of the innovations following include:
Electric cars continued to gain popularity and in 1895, the first automobile race in the United States — a 52-mile "dash" from Chicago to Waukegan, Ill., and back, which took the winner 10 hours 23 minutes (average speed 5 mph / 8 km/h) — featured six entries, and two of them were electric cars, according to Smithsonian magazine. By 1900, the New York City taxi service had about 60 electric cars and approximately a third of cars in the United States were electric, according to the Department of Energy.
When Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908, the inexpensive and high quality gasoline powered car became very popular and the decline of electric cars began, according to the Department of Energy. By the 1920s, gasoline had become cheaper and more readily available, and more Americans were traveling greater distances. Electric cars didn't have the range that gas-powered cars had, and electricity was still not readily available in many rural cities, making the gasoline-powered cars the automobiles of choice.
"At the beginning of the 20th Century, electric cars were very briefly more popular than internal combustion engine cars in America. However, they had very bad batteries. Electric cars are only good today because of batteries that were initially developed for laptops and camcorders," said Standage.
In 1976, Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act due to rising oil prices, gasoline shortages and dependencies on foreign oil. Many car companies began to research and design new fuel-efficient and electric options, although not much happened until the 1990s.
The Toyota Prius, developed and released in Japan in 1997, was the world's first mass-produced hybrid car and was available around the world by 2000. The Honda Insight hybrid car was released in the United States in 1999.
Tesla Motors began development and production on a luxury all-electric car that would travel more than two hundred miles on a single charge in 2003 with the first model released in 2008. The Chevrolet Volt, released in 2010, was the first available plug-in hybrid that used the gasoline engine to extend the range of the automobile when the battery was depleted. The Nissan LEAF was also released in 2010 and was more readily available to the public than Tesla's Model S.
Today, nearly every major and many smaller automobile companies are developing their own electric and hybrid models.
Karl Benz gets the credit for inventing the automobile because his car was practical, used a gasoline-powered internal-combustion engine and worked like modern cars do today.
Benz was born in 1844 in Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany. His father was a railway worker who died in an accident when Benz was 2 years old. Although poor, Benz's mother supported him and his education. He was admitted to the University of Karlsruhe at age 15 and graduated in 1864 with a mechanical engineering degree.
Benz's first venture of an iron foundry and sheet-metal workshop flopped. However his new bride, Bertha Ringer, used her dowry to fund a new factory to build gas engines. With the profits Benz was free to start building a horseless, gas-powered carriage.
Benz had built three prototypes of his Motor Car in private by 1888, when Bertha decided it was time for some press. Bertha took the latest model in the early morning and drove her two teenage sons 66 miles to her mother's home. She had to improvise repairs along the way with shoe leather, a hair pin and her garter.
The successful trip showed Benz how to improve the car, and showed a dubious public that automobiles were useful. Benz demonstrated the Model 3 Motorwagen at the World's Fair in Paris the following year.
"This trip has been mythologized but there is a kernel of truth to it. During this trip, Bertha figured out various things such as that the brakes needed to be better and a better lower gear was required to get up hills. She actually stopped at a cobbler’s and had him put leather on the brake pads to improve them. Carl then adopted that approach," said Standage.
"The fact that Bertha showed you could use this car for a road trip (she traveled 40 miles) gave Carl the confidence that he actually had a sellable product. He put it on sale at a trade fair and people were amazed. He started selling them, along with the rights, to other people around Europe so they could manufacture them."
Benz died in 1929, just two years after he merged with fellow car-maker Gottlieb Daimler's company to form what is today the Daimler Group, manufacturer of the Mercedes-Benz.
On January 29, 1886, Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine.” The patent – number 37435 – may be regarded as the birth certificate of the automobile. In July 1886 the newspapers reported on the first public outing of the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car, model no.
A car or automobile is a motor vehicle with wheels. Most definitions of cars say that they run primarily on roads, seat one to eight people, have four wheels, and mainly transport people, not cargo.
French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built the first steam-powered road vehicle in 1769, while Swiss inventor François Isaac de Rivaz designed and constructed the first internal combustion powered automobile in 1808. The modern car—a practical, marketable automobile for everyday use—was invented in 1886, when German inventor Carl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Commercial cars became widely available during the 20th century. One of the first cars affordable by the masses was the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Cars were rapidly adopted in the US, where they replaced horse-drawn carriages. In Europe and other parts of the world, demand for automobiles did not increase until after World War II. The car is considered an essential part of the developed economy.
Cars have controls for driving, parking, passenger comfort, and a variety of lights. Over the decades, additional features and controls have been added to vehicles, making them progressively more complex. These include rear-reversing cameras, air conditioning, navigation systems, and in-car entertainment. Most cars in use in the early 2020s are propelled by an internal combustion engine, fuelled by the combustion of fossil fuels. Electric cars, which were invented early in the history of the car, became commercially available in the 2000s and are predicted to cost less to buy than gasoline cars before 2025. The transition from fossil fuels to electric cars features prominently in most climate change mitigation scenarios, such as Project Drawdown's 100 actionable solutions for climate change.
There are costs and benefits to car use. The costs to the individual include acquiring the vehicle, interest payments (if the car is financed), repairs and maintenance, fuel, depreciation, driving time, parking fees, taxes, and insurance. The costs to society include maintaining roads, land use, road congestion, air pollution, noise pollution, public health, and disposing of the vehicle at the end of its life. Traffic collisions are the largest cause of injury-related deaths worldwide. Personal benefits include on-demand transportation, mobility, independence, and convenience. Societal benefits include economic benefits, such as job and wealth creation from the automotive industry, transportation provision, societal well-being from leisure and travel opportunities, and revenue generation from taxes. People's ability to move flexibly from place to place has far-reaching implications for the nature of societies.
There are around one billion cars in use worldwide. Car usage is increasing rapidly, especially in China, India, and other newly industrialized countries.
The English word car is believed to originate from Latin carrus/carrum "wheeled vehicle" or (via Old North French) Middle English carre "two-wheeled cart", both of which in turn derive from Gaulish karros "chariot". It originally referred to any wheeled horse-drawn vehicle, such as a cart, carriage, or wagon.
"Motor car", attested from 1895, is the usual formal term in British English. "Autocar", a variant likewise attested from 1895 and literally meaning "self-propelled car", is now considered archaic. "Horseless carriage" is attested from 1895.
"Automobile", a classical compound derived from Ancient Greek autós (αὐτός) "self" and Latin mobiliscode: lat promoted to code: la "movable", entered English from French and was first adopted by the Automobile Club of Great Britain in 1897. It fell out of favour in Britain and is now used chiefly in North America, where the abbreviated form "auto" commonly appears as an adjective in compound formations like "auto industry" and "auto mechanic".
The first steam-powered vehicle was designed by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish member of a Jesuit mission in China around 1672. It was a 65-centimetre-long (26 in) scale-model toy for the Kangxi Emperor that was unable to carry a driver or a passenger. It is not known with certainty if Verbiest's model was successfully built or run.
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is widely credited with building the first full-scale, self-propelled mechanical vehicle in about 1769; he created a steam-powered tricycle. He also constructed two steam tractors for the French Army, one of which is preserved in the French National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. His inventions were limited by problems with water supply and maintaining steam pressure. In 1801, Richard Trevithick built and demonstrated his Puffing Devil road locomotive, believed by many to be the first demonstration of a steam-powered road vehicle. It was unable to maintain sufficient steam pressure for long periods and was of little practical use.
The development of external combustion (steam) engines is detailed as part of the history of the car but often treated separately from the development of true cars. A variety of steam-powered road vehicles were used during the first part of the 19th century, including steam cars, steam buses, phaetons, and steam rollers. In the United Kingdom, sentiment against them led to the Locomotive Acts of 1865.
In 1807, Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude created what was probably the world's first internal combustion engine (which they called a Pyréolophore), but installed it in a boat on the river Saone in France. Coincidentally, in 1807, the Swiss inventor François Isaac de Rivaz designed his own "de Rivaz internal combustion engine", and used it to develop the world's first vehicle to be powered by such an engine. The Niépces' Pyréolophore was fuelled by a mixture of Lycopodium powder (dried spores of the Lycopodium plant), finely crushed coal dust and resin that were mixed with oil, whereas de Rivaz used a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. Neither design was successful, as was the case with others, such as Samuel Brown, Samuel Morey, and Etienne Lenoir, who each built vehicles (usually adapted carriages or carts) powered by internal combustion engines.
In November 1881, French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a three-wheeled car powered by electricity at the International Exposition of Electricity. Although several other German engineers (including Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Siegfried Marcus) were working on cars at about the same time, the year 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car—a practical, marketable automobile for everyday use—when the German Carl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen; he is generally acknowledged as the inventor of the car.
In 1879, Benz was granted a patent for his first engine, which had been designed in 1878. Many of his other inventions made the use of the internal combustion engine feasible for powering a vehicle. His first Motorwagen was built in 1885 in Mannheim, Germany. He was awarded the patent for its invention as of his application on 29 January 1886 (under the auspices of his major company, Benz & Cie., which was founded in 1883). Benz began promotion of the vehicle on 3 July 1886, and about 25 Benz vehicles were sold between 1888 and 1893, when his first four-wheeler was introduced along with a cheaper model. They also were powered with four-stroke engines of his own design. Emile Roger of France, already producing Benz engines under license, now added the Benz car to his line of products. Because France was more open to the early cars, initially more were built and sold in France through Roger than Benz sold in Germany. In August 1888, Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl Benz, undertook the first road trip by car, to prove the road-worthiness of her husband's invention.
In 1896, Benz designed and patented the first internal-combustion flat engine, called boxermotor. During the last years of the 19th century, Benz was the largest car company in the world with 572 units produced in 1899 and, because of its size, Benz & Cie., became a joint-stock company. The first motor car in central Europe and one of the first factory-made cars in the world, was produced by Czech company Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau (later renamed to Tatra) in 1897, the Präsident automobil.
Daimler and Maybach founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) in Cannstatt in 1890, and sold their first car in 1892 under the brand name Daimler. It was a horse-drawn stagecoach built by another manufacturer, which they retrofitted with an engine of their design. By 1895, about 30 vehicles had been built by Daimler and Maybach, either at the Daimler works or in the Hotel Hermann, where they set up shop after disputes with their backers. Benz, Maybach, and the Daimler team seem to have been unaware of each other's early work. They never worked together; by the time of the merger of the two companies, Daimler and Maybach were no longer part of DMG. Daimler died in 1900 and later that year, Maybach designed an engine named Daimler-Mercedes that was placed in a specially ordered model built to specifications set by Emil Jellinek. This was a production of a small number of vehicles for Jellinek to race and market in his country. Two years later, in 1902, a new model DMG car was produced and the model was named Mercedes after the Maybach engine, which generated 35 hp. Maybach quit DMG shortly thereafter and opened a business of his own. Rights to the Daimler brand name were sold to other manufacturers.
In 1890, Émile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France began producing vehicles with Daimler engines, and so laid the foundation of the automotive industry in France. In 1891, Auguste Doriot and his Peugeot colleague Louis Rigoulot completed the longest trip by a gasoline-powered vehicle when their self-designed and built Daimler powered Peugeot Type 3 completed 2,100 kilometres (1,300 mi) from Valentigney to Paris and Brest and back again. They were attached to the first Paris–Brest–Paris bicycle race, but finished six days after the winning cyclist, Charles Terront.
The first design for an American car with a gasoline internal combustion engine was made in 1877 by George Selden of Rochester, New York. Selden applied for a patent for a car in 1879, but the patent application expired because the vehicle was never built. After a delay of 16 years and a series of attachments to his application, on 5 November 1895, Selden was granted a US patent (U.S. Patent 549,160) for a two-stroke car engine, which hindered, more than encouraged, development of cars in the United States. His patent was challenged by Henry Ford and others, and overturned in 1911.
In 1893, the first running, gasoline-powered American car was built and road-tested by the Duryea brothers of Springfield, Massachusetts. The first public run of the Duryea Motor Wagon took place on 21 September 1893, on Taylor Street in Metro Center Springfield. Studebaker, subsidiary of a long-established wagon and coach manufacturer, started to build cars in 1897: 66 and commenced sales of electric vehicles in 1902 and gasoline vehicles in 1904.
In Britain, there had been several attempts to build steam cars with varying degrees of success, with Thomas Rickett even attempting a production run in 1860. Santler from Malvern is recognized by the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain as having made the first gasoline-powered car in the country in 1894, followed by Frederick William Lanchester in 1895, but these were both one-offs. The first production vehicles in Great Britain came from the Daimler Company, a company founded by Harry J. Lawson in 1896, after purchasing the right to use the name of the engines. Lawson's company made its first car in 1897, and they bore the name Daimler.
In 1892, German engineer Rudolf Diesel was granted a patent for a "New Rational Combustion Engine". In 1897, he built the first diesel engine. Steam-, electric-, and gasoline-powered vehicles competed for a few decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s. Although various pistonless rotary engine designs have attempted to compete with the conventional piston and crankshaft design, only Mazda's version of the Wankel engine has had more than very limited success.
All in all, it is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile and motorcycle.
Large-scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable cars was started by Ransom Olds in 1901 at his Oldsmobile factory in Lansing, Michigan, and based upon stationary assembly line techniques pioneered by Marc Isambard Brunel at the Portsmouth Block Mills, England, in 1802. The assembly line style of mass production and interchangeable parts had been pioneered in the US by Thomas Blanchard in 1821, at the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. This concept was greatly expanded by Henry Ford, beginning in 1913 with the world's first moving assembly line for cars at the Highland Park Ford Plant.
As a result, Ford's cars came off the line in 15-minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, increasing productivity eightfold, while using less manpower (from 12.5 manhours to 1 hour 33 minutes). It was so successful, paint became a bottleneck. Only Japan black would dry fast enough, forcing the company to drop the variety of colors available before 1913, until fast-drying Duco lacquer was developed in 1926. This is the source of Ford's apocryphal remark, "any color as long as it's black". In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months' pay.
Ford's complex safety procedures—especially assigning each worker to a specific location instead of allowing them to roam about—dramatically reduced the rate of injury. The combination of high wages and high efficiency is called "Fordism" and was copied by most major industries. The efficiency gains from the assembly line also coincided with the economic rise of the US. The assembly line forced workers to work at a certain pace with very repetitive motions which led to more output per worker while other countries were using less productive methods.
In the automotive industry, its success was dominating, and quickly spread worldwide seeing the founding of Ford France and Ford Britain in 1911, Ford Denmark 1923, Ford Germany 1925; in 1921, Citroën was the first native European manufacturer to adopt the production method. Soon, companies had to have assembly lines, or risk going broke; by 1930, 250 companies which did not, had disappeared.
Development of automotive technology was rapid, due in part to the hundreds of small manufacturers competing to gain the world's attention. Key developments included electric ignition and the electric self-starter (both by Charles Kettering, for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910–1911), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes.
Since the 1920s, nearly all cars have been mass-produced to meet market needs, so marketing plans often have heavily influenced car design. It was Alfred P. Sloan who established the idea of different makes of cars produced by one company, called the General Motors Companion Make Program, so that buyers could "move up" as their fortunes improved.
Reflecting the rapid pace of change, makes shared parts with one another so larger production volume resulted in lower costs for each price range. For example, in the 1930s, LaSalles, sold by Cadillac, used cheaper mechanical parts made by Oldsmobile; in the 1950s, Chevrolet shared bonnet, doors, roof, and windows with Pontiac; by the 1990s, corporate powertrains and shared platforms (with interchangeable brakes, suspension, and other parts) were common. Even so, only major makers could afford high costs, and even companies with decades of production, such as Apperson, Cole, Dorris, Haynes, or Premier, could not manage: of some two hundred American car makers in existence in 1920, only 43 survived in 1930, and with the Great Depression, by 1940, only 17 of those were left.
In Europe, much the same would happen. Morris set up its production line at Cowley in 1924, and soon outsold Ford, while beginning in 1923 to follow Ford's practice of vertical integration, buying Hotchkiss (engines), Wrigley (gearboxes), and Osberton (radiators), for instance, as well as competitors, such as Wolseley: in 1925, Morris had 41 per cent of total British car production. Most British small-car assemblers, from Abbey to Xtra, had gone under. Citroën did the same in France, coming to cars in 1919; between them and other cheap cars in reply such as Renault's 10CV and Peugeot's 5CV, they produced 550,000 cars in 1925, and Mors, Hurtu, and others could not compete. Germany's first mass-manufactured car, the Opel 4PS Laubfrosch (Tree Frog), came off the line at Rüsselsheim in 1924, soon making Opel the top car builder in Germany, with 37.5 per cent of the market.
In Japan, car production was very limited before World War II. Only a handful of companies were producing vehicles in limited numbers, and these were small, three-wheeled for commercial uses, like Daihatsu, or were the result of partnering with European companies, like Isuzu building the Wolseley A-9 in 1922. Mitsubishi was also partnered with Fiat and built the Mitsubishi Model A based on a Fiat vehicle. Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, and Honda began as companies producing non-automotive products before the war, switching to car production during the 1950s. Kiichiro Toyoda's decision to take Toyoda Loom Works into automobile manufacturing would create what would eventually become Toyota Motor Corporation, the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. Subaru, meanwhile, was formed from a conglomerate of six companies who banded together as Fuji Heavy Industries, as a result of having been broken up under keiretsu legislation.
The transport sector is a major contributor to air pollution, noise pollution and climate change.
Most cars in use in the early 2020s run on gasoline burnt in an internal combustion engine (ICE). The International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers says that, in countries that mandate low sulfur gasoline, gasoline-fuelled cars built to late 2010s standards (such as Euro-6) emit very little local air pollution. Some cities ban older gasoline-fuelled cars and some countries plan to ban sales in future. However, some environmental groups say this phase-out of fossil fuel vehicles must be brought forwards to limit climate change. Production of gasoline-fuelled cars peaked in 2017.
Other hydrocarbon fossil fuels also burnt by deflagration (rather than detonation) in ICE cars include diesel, autogas, and CNG. Removal of fossil fuel subsidies, concerns about oil dependence, tightening environmental laws and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions are propelling work on alternative power systems for cars. This includes hybrid vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles. Out of all cars sold in 2021, nine per cent were electric, and by the end of that year there were more than 16 million electric cars on the world's roads. Despite rapid growth, less than two per cent of cars on the world's roads were fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars by the end of 2021. Cars for racing or speed records have sometimes employed jet or rocket engines, but these are impractical for common use.
Oil consumption has increased rapidly in the 20th and 21st centuries because there are more cars; the 1980s oil glut even fuelled the sales of low-economy vehicles in OECD countries. The BRIC countries are adding to this consumption.
As of 2023 few production cars use wheel hub motors.
In almost all hybrid (even mild hybrid) and pure electric cars regenerative braking recovers and returns to a battery some energy which would otherwise be wasted by friction brakes getting hot. Although all cars must have friction brakes (front disc brakes and either disc or drum rear brakes) for emergency stops, regenerative braking improves efficiency, particularly in city driving.
Cars are equipped with controls used for driving, passenger comfort, and safety, normally operated by a combination of the use of feet and hands, and occasionally by voice on 21st-century cars. These controls include a steering wheel, pedals for operating the brakes and controlling the car's speed (and, in a manual transmission car, a clutch pedal), a shift lever or stick for changing gears, and a number of buttons and dials for turning on lights, ventilation, and other functions. Modern cars' controls are now standardized, such as the location for the accelerator and brake, but this was not always the case. Controls are evolving in response to new technologies, for example, the electric car and the integration of mobile communications.
Some of the original controls are no longer required. For example, all cars once had controls for the choke valve, clutch, ignition timing, and a crank instead of an electric starter. However, new controls have also been added to vehicles, making them more complex. These include air conditioning, navigation systems, and in-car entertainment. Another trend is the replacement of physical knobs and switches by secondary controls with touchscreen controls such as BMW's iDrive and Ford's MyFord Touch. Another change is that while early cars' pedals were physically linked to the brake mechanism and throttle, in the early 2020s, cars have increasingly replaced these physical linkages with electronic controls.
Cars are typically equipped with interior lighting which can be toggled manually or be set to light up automatically with doors open, an entertainment system which originated from car radios, sideways windows which can be lowered or raised electrically (manually on earlier cars), and one or multiple auxiliary power outlets for supplying portable appliances such as mobile phones, portable fridges, power inverters, and electrical air pumps from the on-board electrical system. More costly upper-class and luxury cars are equipped with features earlier such as massage seats and collision avoidance systems.
Dedicated automotive fuses and circuit breakers prevent damage from electrical overload.
Cars are typically fitted with multiple types of lights. These include headlights, which are used to illuminate the way ahead and make the car visible to other users, so that the vehicle can be used at night; in some jurisdictions, daytime running lights; red brake lights to indicate when the brakes are applied; amber turn signal lights to indicate the turn intentions of the driver; white-colored reverse lights to illuminate the area behind the car (and indicate that the driver will be or is reversing); and on some vehicles, additional lights (e.g., side marker lights) to increase the visibility of the car. Interior lights on the ceiling of the car are usually fitted for the driver and passengers. Some vehicles also have a boot light and, more rarely, an engine compartment light.
During the late 20th and early 21st century, cars increased in weight due to batteries, modern steel safety cages, anti-lock brakes, airbags, and "more-powerful—if more efficient—engines" and, as of 2019, typically weigh between 1 and 3 tonnes (1.1 and 3.3 short tons; 0.98 and 2.95 long tons). Heavier cars are safer for the driver from a crash perspective, but more dangerous for other vehicles and road users. The weight of a car influences fuel consumption and performance, with more weight resulting in increased fuel consumption and decreased performance. The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, a typical city car, weighs about 700 kilograms (1,500 lb). Heavier cars include SUVs and extended-length SUVs like the Suburban.
Some places tax heavier cars more: as well as improving pedestrian safety this can encourage manufacturers to use materials such as recycled aluminium instead of steel. It has been suggested that one benefit of subsidizing charging infrastructure is that cars can use lighter batteries.
Most cars are designed to carry multiple occupants, often with four or five seats. Cars with five seats typically seat two passengers in the front and three in the rear. Full-size cars and large sport utility vehicles can often carry six, seven, or more occupants depending on the arrangement of the seats. On the other hand, sports cars are most often designed with only two seats. Utility vehicles like pickup trucks, combine seating with extra cargo or utility functionality. The differing needs for passenger capacity and their luggage or cargo space has resulted in the availability of a large variety of body styles to meet individual consumer requirements that include, among others, the sedan/saloon, hatchback, station wagon/estate, coupe, and minivan.
Traffic collisions are the largest cause of injury-related deaths worldwide. Mary Ward became one of the first documented car fatalities in 1869 in Parsonstown, Ireland, and Henry Bliss one of the US's first pedestrian car casualties in 1899 in New York City. There are now standard tests for safety in new cars, such as the Euro and US NCAP tests, and insurance-industry-backed tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The costs of car usage, which may include the cost of: acquiring the vehicle, repairs and auto maintenance, fuel, depreciation, driving time, parking fees, taxes, and insurance, are weighed against the cost of the alternatives, and the value of the benefits—perceived and real—of vehicle usage. The benefits may include on-demand transportation, mobility, independence, and convenience, and emergency power. During the 1920s, cars had another benefit: "ouples finally had a way to head off on unchaperoned dates, plus they had a private space to snuggle up close at the end of the night."
Similarly the costs to society of car use may include; maintaining roads, land use, air pollution, noise pollution, road congestion, public health, health care, and of disposing of the vehicle at the end of its life; and can be balanced against the value of the benefits to society that car use generates. Societal benefits may include: economy benefits, such as job and wealth creation, of car production and maintenance, transportation provision, society wellbeing derived from leisure and travel opportunities, and revenue generation from the tax opportunities. The ability of humans to move flexibly from place to place has far-reaching implications for the nature of societies.
Cars are a major cause of urban air pollution, with all types of cars producing dust from brakes, tyres, and road wear, although these may be limited by vehicle emission standards. While there are different ways to power cars most rely on gasoline or diesel, and they consume almost a quarter of world oil production as of 2019. Both gasoline and diesel cars pollute more than electric cars. Cars and vans caused 8% of direct carbon dioxide emissions in 2021. As of 2021, due to greenhouse gases emitted during battery production, electric cars must be driven tens of thousands of kilometers before their lifecycle carbon emissions are less than fossil fuel cars; however this varies considerably and is expected to improve in future due to lower carbon electricity, and longer lasting batteries produced in larger factories. Many governments use fiscal policies, such as road tax, to discourage the purchase and use of more polluting cars; and many cities are doing the same with low-emission zones. Fuel taxes may act as an incentive for the production of more efficient, hence less polluting, car designs (e.g., hybrid vehicles) and the development of alternative fuels. High fuel taxes or cultural change may provide a strong incentive for consumers to purchase lighter, smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, or to not drive.
The lifetime of a car built in the 2020s is expected to be about 16 years, or about 2 million km (1.2 million miles) if driven a lot. According to the International Energy Agency the average rated fuel consumption of new light-duty vehicles fell by only 0.9% between 2017 and 2019, far smaller than the 1.8% annual average reduction between 2010 and 2015. Given slow progress to date, the IEA estimates fuel consumption will have to decrease by 4.3% per year on average from 2019 to 2030. The increase in sales of SUVs is bad for fuel economy. Many cities in Europe have banned older fossil fuel cars and all fossil fuel vehicles will be banned in Amsterdam from 2030. Many Chinese cities limit licensing of fossil fuel cars, and many countries plan to stop selling them between 2025 and 2050.
The manufacture of vehicles is resource intensive, and many manufacturers now report on the environmental performance of their factories, including energy usage, waste and water consumption. Manufacturing each kWh of battery emits a similar amount of carbon as burning through one full tank of gasoline. The growth in popularity of the car allowed cities to sprawl, therefore encouraging more travel by car, resulting in inactivity and obesity, which in turn can lead to increased risk of a variety of diseases.
Animals and plants are often negatively affected by cars via habitat destruction and pollution. Over the lifetime of the average car, the "loss of habitat potential" may be over 50,000 square metres (540,000 sq ft) based on primary production correlations. Animals are also killed every year on roads by cars, referred to as roadkill. More recent road developments are including significant environmental mitigation in their designs, such as green bridges (designed to allow wildlife crossings) and creating wildlife corridors.
Growth in the popularity of cars and commuting has led to traffic congestion. Moscow, Istanbul, Bogotá, Mexico City and São Paulo were the world's most congested cities in 2018 according to INRIX, a data analytics company.
Mass production of personal motor vehicles in the United States and other developed countries with extensive territories such as Australia, Argentina, and France vastly increased individual and group mobility and greatly increased and expanded economic development in urban, suburban, exurban and rural areas.
In the United States, the transport divide and car dependency resulting from domination of car-based transport systems presents barriers to employment in low-income neighbourhoods, with many low-income individuals and families forced to run cars they cannot afford in order to maintain their income. The historic commitment to a car-based transport system continued during the presidency of Joe Biden. Dependency on automobiles by African Americans may result in exposure to the hazards of driving while black and other types of racial discrimination related to buying, financing and insuring them.
Although intensive development of conventional battery electric vehicles is continuing into the 2020s, other car propulsion technologies that are under development include wireless charging, hydrogen cars, and hydrogen/electric hybrids. Research into alternative forms of power includes using ammonia instead of hydrogen in fuel cells.
New materials which may replace steel car bodies include aluminium, fiberglass, carbon fiber, biocomposites, and carbon nanotubes. Telematics technology is allowing more and more people to share cars, on a pay-as-you-go basis, through car share and carpool schemes. Communication is also evolving due to connected car systems.
Fully autonomous vehicles, also known as driverless cars, already exist as robotaxis but have a long way to go before they are in general use.
There have been several projects aiming to develop a car on the principles of open design, an approach to designing in which the plans for the machinery and systems are publicly shared, often without monetary compensation. None of the projects have succeeded in developing a car as a whole including both hardware and software, and no mass production ready open-source based designs have been introduced. Some car hacking through on-board diagnostics (OBD) has been done so far.
Car-share arrangements and carpooling are also increasingly popular, in the US and Europe. For example, in the US, some car-sharing services have experienced double-digit growth in revenue and membership growth between 2006 and 2007. Services like car sharing offer residents to "share" a vehicle rather than own a car in already congested neighbourhoods.
The automotive industry designs, develops, manufactures, markets, and sells the world's motor vehicles, more than three-quarters of which are cars. In 2020, there were 56 million cars manufactured worldwide, down from 67 million the previous year.
The automotive industry in China produces by far the most (20 million in 2020), followed by Japan (seven million), then Germany, South Korea and India. The largest market is China, followed by the US.
Around the world, there are about a billion cars on the road; they burn over a trillion litres (0.26×10^12 US gal; 0.22×10^12 imp gal) of gasoline and diesel fuel yearly, consuming about 50 exajoules (14,000 TWh) of energy. The numbers of cars are increasing rapidly in China and India. In the opinion of some, urban transport systems based around the car have proved unsustainable, consuming excessive energy, affecting the health of populations, and delivering a declining level of service despite increasing investment. Many of these negative effects fall disproportionately on those social groups who are also least likely to own and drive cars. The sustainable transport movement focuses on solutions to these problems. The car industry is also facing increasing competition from the public transport sector, as some people re-evaluate their private vehicle usage.
Established alternatives for some aspects of car use include public transport such as busses, trolleybusses, trains, subways, tramways, light rail, cycling, and walking. Bicycle sharing systems have been established in China and many European cities, including Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Similar programs have been developed in large US cities. Additional individual modes of transport, such as personal rapid transit could serve as an alternative to cars if they prove to be socially accepted.
Standing in the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, however, it is both a moment of awe and underwhelming surprise to see the world’s first car in the see-through flesh. Truly, the term used at the time, “horseless carriage” seems more apt, yet it is Benz’s vehicle, patented in 1886, that gets the credit for being the first car ever made, even though other road vehicles preceded his work by many years.
Why is this the case, and does Benz deserve the credit he gets for building the world’s oldest car?
It could be argued, of course, that an absurdly talented genius, known to his friends as Leo, beat Benz to designing the first automobile by several hundred years.
Among the many incredible inventions of the great Leonardo da Vinci was a design for the world’s first self-propelled vehicle (no horses required).
His ingenious contraption, drawn by his hand in 1495, was spring driven and needed to be wound up before setting off, but it was highly complex and, as it turns out, completely feasible.
In 2004, a team from The Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence used da Vinci’s detailed plans to build a full-scale model, and sure enough, “Leonardo’s Automobile” actually did work.
Even more incredibly, the ancient design features the world’s first steering column, and a rack and pinion gear system, the basis of the way we still steer our vehicles today.
To be fair, though, Leonardo probably never got as far as building his idea for a prototype - it actually would have been nearly impossible with the tools available to him at the time - or riding around town on it. He even forgot to include seats.
And, when it comes to the most common modern automobiles we know of today, his automobile was missing something vital that Benz’s could boast; the first internal-combustion engine, and thus the first petrol car.
It is the use of that fuel, and that engine design, that eventually won out in the race to make the world’s first horseless carriages, and why the German gets the credit, despite the fact that a Frenchman called Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built the first, self-propelled road vehicle, which was basically a tractor with three wheels for use by the military, back in 1769. Yes, it could only do about 4km/h and it wasn’t really a car, but the main reason he’s missed out on household-name status is that his contraption ran on steam, making it more of a land-going train.
Mind you, the Automobile Club de France does still credit Cugnot as the creator of the first car ever. Tres French.
Similarly, Robert Anderson misses out on claiming to have made the first car in the world, because his self propelled car, built in Scotland in the 1830s, was an “electric carriage”, not one with an internal-combustion engine.
Of course, it’s important to note that Karl Benz wasn’t the first person to come up with the engine, either. As early as 1680, a Dutch physicist called Christian Huygens came up with the idea for an internal-combustion engine, and it’s probably a good thing he never actually built it, because his plan was to power it with gunpowder.
And even Karl Benz had help, from a another fellow with a name familiar to fans of Mercedes-Benz (or Daimler Benz as it has otherwise been known), Gottlieb Daimler, who, in 1885, designed the world’s first modern engine, with a single, vertical cylinder and petrol injected through a carburettor. He even attached it to a car, of sorts, called the Reitwagen (“riding carriage”). His engine was very similar to the single-cylinder, two-stroke gasoline engine that would drive the vehicle patented by Karl Benz the next year.
Benz, a mechanical engineer, takes the lion’s share of the credit for building the world’s first automobile, powered by an ICE, largely because he was first one to file a patent for such a thing, which he received on January 29, 1886.
To give old Karl his due, he did also patent his own spark plugs, gear system, throttle design and a radiator.
While the original Benz Patent Motorwagen was a three-wheeled conveyance that looked exactly like a horse buggy of the time, with the horse replaced by a single front wheel (and two truly whopping, yet spindly wheels at the back), Benz soon improved on the design to create a proper, four-wheeled car by 1891.
By the turn of the century, the company he founded - Benz & Cie - was the largest car manufacturer in the world.
When was the first car invented is a question as much up for debate as it is definition. Certainly, Gottlieb Daimler has his claims to the title, as he came up with not only that first basic engine, but then a much-refined version, in 1889, featuring a V-shaped, four-stroke, two-cylinder engine, which is far closer to the designs still used today than the single-cylinder unit on the Benz Patent Motorwagen.
In 1927, Daimler and Benz merged to create the Daimler Group, which would one day be Mercedes-Benz.
Credit must also go to the French, with Panhard and Levassor in 1889 and then Peugeot in 1891 becoming the world’s first proper car manufacturers, meaning they didn’t just muck around building prototypes, they were actually building whole motor vehicles and selling them.
The Germans soon caught up and overtook them, sure, but still, it’s a pretty credible claim that you rarely hear Peugeot banging on about.
The first mass produced car, in the modern sense, was the 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile, built in Detroit by Ransome Eli Olds, who came up with the concept of the car assembly line, and kicked off the Motor City.
It is the far more famous Henry Ford who generally gets the credit for the first assembly line and the production of cars en masse, with his famous Model T, in 1908.
And with so many models and makes to choose from, such as the Tesla and Ford 5150, transportation experiences are different from person to person. It may be hard to believe each distinct car started from the same beginnings but they did. It's time to hit the gas and learn some automobile history.
In 1886, Benz created the three-wheeled motor car, known as the “Motorwagen." This vehicle often is considered the first truly modern automobile.
On Jan. 29, 1886, Benz applied for a patent for his "vehicle powered by a gas engine.” Some regard the vehicle's patent as "the birth certificate of the automobile." Later that year, the Benz Patent Motor Car, model No. 1, made its first public outing. The car was "powered by an internal combustion engine: three-wheeled, four-cycle, engine and chassis form a single unit," according to the Library of Congress.
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While Benz is widely regarded for his automobile invention, it is hard to pinpoint a single creator for the car.
There have been various other automobiles – steam, electric, and gasoline – throughout history, that were invented before and after Benz's. Accounts dating back to the 15th century even show Leonardo da Vinci had created designs and models for transport vehicles, according to the Library of Congress.
In 1769, the first self-propelled road vehicle powered by steam was invented by Nicolas-Joseph Cugno. The first electric carriage was invented by Robert Anderson. In 1886, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach invented the first four-wheel, four-stroke engine, gasoline automobile: the “Cannstatt-Daimler.” Some regard the 1901 Mercedes, designed by Maybach, as the "first modern motorcar in all essentials."
In 1893, J. Frank and Charles Duryea invented the first successful American gasoline automobile. This vehicle won the first American car race in 1895.
There are many people responsible for the modern cars we drive today, and innovations continue to be made toward our vehicles.
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