The first automobile rolled off the lot in 1885. Its inventor, Karl Benz, could not have imagined how his machine on wheels would evolve nearly 150 years later. Of all the inventions through the ages, the automobile has advanced at an accelerated (pardon the pun) rate. And, yet, many of the current innovations we have witnessed over the last decade were conceived from ideas that spanned over 80 years and currently reviewed in today’s defensive driving courses. For instance, electric vehicles (EVs) are now taking over the auto industry. The seeds of the current automation, however, were planted back in 1913 with the collaborative development of electric cars by Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
What Were the Most Significant Changes?
Key benchmarks have redefined what a vehicle is capable of and how much power it can produce.
- Four-wheel drive. Believe it or not, there was a time when four-wheel drive was unheard of the common cars. All that changed in 1980 with the creation of Quattro. A four-wheel coupe crafted by Audi. Although the Quattro was not received well, it set the template for all-wheel drive.
- Three-point seat belts. It’s impossible to conceive how many lives have been saved by such a seemingly simple gadget. Nils Bohlin’s 1959 seatbelt, however, set the standard for vehicle safety that has lived on to this day. Volvo could have patented this device, but chose to share it with the world. We all owe Volvo a debt of gratitude.
- The electric starter. In today’s convenience-driven world, the thought of cranking a car to get it to start is unfathomable. The pros & cons of manual vs. automatic transmissions are however, still debatable. Prior to the electric starter, however, no one believed that a motorized transport could be ignited from the car’s cabin. Thankfully, Charles Kettering lay the groundwork for the self-starter which could trigger an engine’s ignition from the inside of the car. He invented a self-starting engine in 1912 for Cadillac.
- Three pedals on the floor. Early vehicles hand a combination of hand levers and foot pedals to control the car’s clutch, accelerator, and the brakes. Cadillac’s Type 53 was the first vehicle made with all three pedals on the floor. The pedals – including the clutch, brake, and throttle (accelerator) – were arranged left to right.
- Airbags. Although the seatbelt is the most important advancement in vehicle safety, the airbag has proven to be a lifesaver as well. The first airbags arrived as early as 1941. Allan K. Breed invented the first sensor-driven airbags, however two decades later. Today’s vehicles feature airbags that surround the entire cabin of a vehicle. They lessen the impact of a crash and save lives in the process.
The More Things Change…
It should be noted that the basic concept behind a vehicle’s powertrain – i.e., the motor and transmission – has largely stayed intact since the automobile’s inception. Granted, much has been accomplished in the way of making the cylinder engine more powerful and fuel-efficient. The way the engine is designed and how it functions, however, is much the same as it was in the days of the Benz, Daimler, Selden, and Ford. Vehicles still require fuel which is fired in a combustible vessel that creates the energy required to get the wheels moving in a sustained manner over many miles of road.
The Age of Electric Vehicles
In 2003, Tesla Inc was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. The primary objective of the company was to manufacture vehicles that relied solely on electricity to power to operate. By 2008, the Tesla Roadster was released on the highway quickly followed by Model S in 2012. Since that time nearly every manufacturer in the auto industry has either developed its own electric vehicles or hybrids (a combination of electric and gas cars).
Since 2008, approximately 540,000 electric vehicles have been sold in America to date. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be over 10 million on the road worldwide. What was once considered a passing trend will become the new standard by which vehicles are made. Electric powered motors will take vehicles to an entirely different level and change the industry forever.