Few inventions in modern times have had such a profound effect on the global economy and social life as the automobile. Its rapid development from a horse-drawn carriage with an engine added in the late nineteenth century to today’s sophisticated system has transformed transportation and made possible a multitude of new lifestyles, industries, and personal activities not previously possible. While a wide range of personal and societal benefits have come from the automobile, there are also costs associated with its use including taxes, maintenance, insurance, and the depreciation of the vehicle over time. This article will explore the history of the automobile and its many uses.
The automobile is a complex technical system with subsystems with specific design functions. These systems include the body, chassis, engine, and drivetrain. The basic systems interact with each other and are continuously improved through research and development. New technical developments, whether from breakthroughs in existing technology or from the application of new technologies such as computer-aided design and high-strength plastics, enable vehicles to improve performance in a variety of different applications.
Several people have experimented with internal combustion engines in vehicles, and Gottlieb Daimler’s modification of a horse carriage using a four-stroke gasoline-fueled engine is generally recognized as the first automobile. In 1885 Karl Benz built and patented the Motorwagen, which was a vehicle with an internal combustion engine powered by liquid fuel (probably gasoline). The same year Bertha Benz drove her husband’s automobile over 106 kilometers (65.3 miles) to prove its practicality.
After the development of the gasoline engine, the rotary valve was introduced in 1905 and the pistonless rotary valve was developed in 1910 by Mazda’s founder, Junji Katayama. These developments allowed the production of affordable automobiles. In the United States, Ransom Eli Olds pioneered large-scale manufacturing of the automobile in 1902. In the early twentieth century, the assembly line was adapted to car production.
Automobiles require a powerful electric starter motor to give the engine its initial push, as well as an alternator to recharge the battery that supplies power for the vehicle’s many other functions. The computer control system, which governs most of the automobile’s processes, also requires electricity to function.
A car’s chassis, the skeleton-like frame that supports the systems of the automobile, must be strong enough to resist severe overloads and extreme operating conditions. It must also provide passenger comfort and safety, optimize vehicle handling, and offer the highest levels of aerodynamics, stability, and ride quality. Each of these factors must be balanced in the design of the vehicle, and compromises must often be made. For example, a vehicle designed for off-road use must have rugged systems that can be repaired quickly in remote locations, but a high-speed road vehicle must have optimized passenger comfort options and advanced safety features.