Karl Benz's "Velo" model (1894) - entered into the first automobile
An automobile (also
motor car or simply
car) is a wheeled passenger vehicle
that carries its own motor.
Most definitions of the term specify that automobiles are designed to run
primarily on roads, to have seating for one to eight people, to typically have
four wheels, and to be constructed principally for the transport of people
rather than goods.
However, the term is far from precise.
As of 2002, there were 590 million passenger cars worldwide (roughly one
car for every eleven people).
Replica of the Benz Patent Motorwagen built in 1886
Ford Model T, 1927, regarded as the first affordable automobile
Some sources suggest
Ferdinand Verbiest, whilst a member of a
Jesuit mission in China, may have built the first steam powered
FranÁois Isaac de Rivaz, a Swiss inventor, designed the first
internal combustion engine which was fuelled by a mixture of hydrogen
and used it to develop the world's first vehicle to run on such an engine. The
design was not very successful, as was the case with
Samuel Morey, and
Etienne Lenoir who each produced vehicles powered by clumsy internal
An automobile powered by a
Otto gasoline engine was built in Germany by Karl Benz
in 1885 and granted a patent in the following year. Although several other
Wilhelm Maybach and
Siegfried Marcus) were working on the problem at about the same time, Benz
is generally credited with the invention of the modern automobile.
Approximately 25 of Benz's vehicles were built before 1893, when his first
four-wheeler was introduced. They were powered with four-stroke engines of his
Emile Roger of France,
already producing Benz engines under license, now added the Benz automobile to
his line of products. Because France was more open to the early automobiles,
more were built and sold in France through Roger than Benz sold in Germany.
From 1890 to 1895 about 30 vehicles were built by Daimler and his assistant,
Maybach, either at the Daimler works or in the Hotel Hermann, where they set
up shop after falling out with their backers. Benz and Daimler seem to have
been unaware of each other's early work and worked independently.
Emile Levassor and
Armand Peugeot of France began
producing vehicles with Daimler engines, and so laid the foundation of the
motor industry in France. The first American
car with a gasoline internal
combustion engine supposedly was designed in 1877 by
George Selden of
Rochester, New York, who applied for a patent on an automobile in 1879. 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 petrol-powered
car in the country in 1894
Frederick William Lanchester in 1895 but these were both one-offs.
The first production vehicles came from the
Daimler Motor Company, founded by
Harry J. Lawson in 1896, and making their first
cars in 1897.
Rudolf Diesel got a patent for a "New Rational Combustion Engine". In 1897
he built the first
In 1895, Selden was granted a United States patent(U.S.
two-stroke automobile engine, which hinderd more than encouraged
development of autos in the
United States. Steam, electric, and gasoline powered autos competed for
decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the
production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was debuted by Ransom
Olds at his
Oldsmobile factory in 1902. This assembly line concept was then greatly
expanded by Henry
Ford in the 1910s. 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
pistonless rotary engine designs have attempted to compete with the
crankshaft design, only
Mazda's version of the
Wankel engine has had more than very limited success.
Since the 1920s, nearly all
cars have been mass-produced to meet market
needs, so marketing plans have often heavily influenced automobile design. It
Alfred P. Sloan who established the idea of different makes of
produced by one company, so buyers could "move up" as their fortunes improved.
The makes shared parts with one another so larger production volume resulted
in lower costs for each price range. For example, in the 1950s, Chevrolet
shared hood, doors, roof, and windows with Pontiac;
the LaSalle of the 1930s, sold by Cadillac,
used cheaper mechanical parts made by the
|Automobile history eras
Brass or Edwardian
Economics and Impacts
The hydrogen powered FCHV (Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle) was developed by Toyota
The economics of personal automobile ownership go beyond the initial cost
of the vehicle and includes repairs,
depreciation, the cost of borrowing, parking
Additionally, there are indirect societal costs such as the costs of
maintaining roads and other infrastructure, pollution,
public health costs of pollution, health
care costs due to accidents, and the cost of finally disposing of the
vehicle at the end of its life. The ability for humans to move rapidly from
place to place has far reaching implications for the nature of our society.
People can now live far from their workplaces, the design of our cities is
determined as much by the need to get vehicles into and out of the city as the
nature of the buildings and public spaces within the city.
High transportation fuel prices have not seriously reduced
car usage but do
make it more expensive.One environmental benefit of high fuel prices is
as an incentive for the production of more efficient, hence less polluting,
car designs (i.e.
hybrid vehicles) and the development of
alternative fuels. At the beginning of 2006, 1 liter
of gasoline retailed at approximately US$0.60 in the United States compared to
nearly US$1.80 in Germany and other European countries. With fuel prices at
these levels there is a strong incentive for consumers to purchase lighter,
smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, or to simply
not drive. These changes are resisted by those with an interest in
maintaining the massive economy of
is highly prized in dominant societies so the demand for automobiles is still
Costs of Road Infrastructure
The United States Department of Transportation's 2007 Budget provides $23.7
billion to maintain and improve the National Highway System and to replace,
rehabilitate, and preserve bridges and other infrastructure.
This does not include State or City money that will be spent on surface
Impact on Public Health
Transportation is a major contributor to air pollution nationwide,
according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, and nearly half of all
Americans are breathing unhealthy air. Their study showed air quality in
dozens of metropolitan areas has actually gotten worse over the last decade.
Residents of low-density, residential-only sprawling communities are also
more likely to die in car collisions, which kill 1.2 million people worldwide
each year, and injure about forty times this number.
Car culture and sprawl are also believed to contribute to a range of common
diseases from asthma to diabetes, from hypertension to depression. Sprawl is
more broadly a factor in inactivity and obesity, which in turn can lead to
increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder
disease, osteoarthritis, and some cancers, among other ailments.
Most of the environmental impact associated with motor vehicles occurs when
they are used, due to pollution in their exhaust and pollution associated with
supplying the fuel. The average passenger
car emits 11,450 lbs (5 tonnes) of
carbon dioxide, along with smaller amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons,
Vehicle manufacturing also has impacts (including the production of all the
parts and materials that go into the car) and end with its scrap waste in a
wrecking yard (which can recycle many parts but also involves the disposal of
many wastes). On average, today's automobiles are about 75 percent recyclable,
and using recycled steel helps reduce energy use and pollution.
Car buyers are increasingly choosing higher mileage vehicles, for both
economic and environmental reasons. These include gas-electric hybrids. In the
United States Congress, federally mandated fuel efficiency standards have been
debated regularly, but passenger car standards have not risen above the 27.5
miles per gallon standard set in 1985. Light truck standards have
changed more frequently, and were set at 22.2 miles per gallon in 2007.
Alternative fuel vehicles are another option that's less polluting than
conventional petroleum gasoline.
Established alternatives to automobile usage include public transit (buses,
trains, subways, monorails), cycling, walking,
Car-share arrangements are also increasingly popular. Market leader
Flexcar has experienced double-digit growth in revenue and membership growth
between 2006 and 2007,
offering a service that enables urban residents to "share" a vehicle rather
than own a car in already congested neighborhoods.
Bike-share systems have been successful in some European cities, including
Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Similar programs have been experimented with in a
number of U.S. Cities including Portland, OR; Minneapolis, MN; Boulder, CO;
and Princeton, NJ.
Additional individual modes of transport, such as
Personal rapid transit could serve as an alternative to automobiles if
they prove to be socially accepted.
Fuel and propulsion technologies
Henney Kilowatt, the first modern (transistor-controlled) electric
Most automobiles in use today are propelled by gasoline
(also known as petrol) or diesel
internal combustion engines, which are known to cause air
pollution and are also blamed for contributing to
climate change and
Increasing costs of oil-based fuels and tightening environmental laws and
greenhouse gas emissions are propelling work on alternative power systems
for automobiles. Efforts to improve or replace these technologies include
electric vehicles and
Diesel engined cars have long been popular in Europe with the first models
being introduced in the 1930s by
Mercedes Benz and Citroen.
The main benefit of Diesels are a 50% fuel burn efficiency compared with 27%
in the best gasoline engines. A down side of the diesel is the presence in the
exhaust gases of fine soot particulates and manufacturers are now starting to
fit filters to remove these. Many diesel
powered cars can also run with little or no modifications on 100% biodiesel.
Gasoline engines have the advantage over diesel in being lighter and able
to work at higher rotational speeds and they are the usual choice for fitting
in high performance sports cars. Continuous development of gasoline engines
for over a hundred years has produced improvements in efficiency and reduced
pollution. The carburetor was used on nearly all road car engines until the
1980s but it was long realised better control of the fuel/air mixture could be
achieved with fuel injection. Indirect fuel injection was first used in
aircraft engines from 1909, in racing car engines from the 1930s, and road
cars from the late 1950s.
Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) is now starting to appear in production
vehicles such as the 2007 BMW MINI.
Exhaust gases are also cleaned up by fitting a catalytic converter into the
exhaust system. Clean air legislation in many of the car industries most
important markets has made both catalysts and fuel injection virtually
universal fittings. Most modern gasoline engines are also capable of running
with up to 15%
ethanol mixed into the gasoline - older vehicles may have seals and hoses
that can be harmed by ethanol. With a small amount of redesign,
gasoline-powered vehicles can run on ethanol concentrations as high as 85%.
100% ethanol is used in some parts of the world (suc as Brazil), but
vehicles must be started on pure gasoline and switched over to ethanol once
the engine is running. Most gasoline engined cars can also run on LPG with
the addition of an LPG
tank for fuel storage and carburetion modifications to add an LPG mixer.
LPG produces fewer toxic emissions and is a popular fuel for fork lift trucks
that have to operate inside buildings.
electric cars were built in the late 1800s, but the building of
battery powered vehicles that could rival internal combustion models had
to wait for the introduction of modern
semiconductor controls. Because they can deliver a high torque at low
revolutions electric cars do not require such a complex drive train and
transmission as internal combustion powered cars. Some are able to accelerate
from 0-60 mph (96 km/hour)
in 4.0 seconds with a top speed around 130 mph (210 km/h). They have a range
of 250 miles
(400 km) on the EPA
highway cycle requiring 3-1/2 hours to completely charge. Equivalent fuel
efficiency to internal combustion is not well defined but some press reports
give it at around 135 mpg.
Steam power, usually using an oil or gas heated boiler, was also in use
until the 1930s but had the major disadvantage of being unable to power the
car until boiler pressure was available. It has the advantage of being able to
produce very low emissions as the combustion process can be carefully
controlled. Its disadvantages include poor heat efficiency and extensive
requirements for electric auxiliaries.
In the 1950s there was a brief interest in using gas
turbine (jet) engines and several makers including Rover
produced prototypes. In spite of the power units being very compact, high fuel
consumption, severe delay in throttle response, and lack of engine braking
meant no cars reached production.
Rotary (Wankel) engines
Wankel engines were introduced into road cars by NSU with the Ro 80
and later were seen in several Mazda models. In spite of their impressive
smoothness, poor reliability and fuel economy led to them largely
disappearing. Mazda, however, has continued research on these engines and
overcame most of the earlier problems.
Much current research and development is centered on
hybrid vehicles that use both electric power and internal combustion.
Research into alternative forms of power also focus on developing fuel
Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI),
and even using the stored energy of compressed air or
CitroŽn DS; revolutionary visual design and technological
The design of modern cars is typically handled by a large team of designers
and engineers from many different disciplines. As part of the product
development effort the team of designers will work closely with teams of
design engineers responsible for all aspects of the vehicle. These engineering
teams include: chassis, body and trim,
powertrain, electrical and production. The design team under the leadership of
the design director will typically comprise of an exterior designer, an
interior designer (usually referred to as stylists), and a color and materials
designer. A few other designers will be involved in detail design of both
exterior and interior. For example, a designer might be tasked with designing
the rear light clusters or the steering wheel. The color and materials
designer will work closely with the exterior and interior designers in
developing exterior color paints, interior colors, fabrics, leathers, carpet,
wood trim, and so on.
In 1924 the American national automobile market began reaching saturation.
To maintain unit sales, General Motors instituted annual model-year design
changes (also credited to Alfred Sloan) in order to convince car owners they
needed a replacement each year. Since 1935 automotive form has been driven
more by consumer expectations than engineering improvement.
There have been many efforts to innovate automobile design funded by the NHTSA,
including the work of the NavLab group at Carnegie Mellon University.
Recent efforts include the highly publicized
DARPA Grand Challenge race.
and measures of turning or agility
vary widely between different makes and models of automobile. The automotive
publication industry has developed around these performance measures as a way
to quantify and qualify the characteristics of a particular vehicle. See
quarter mile and
0 to 60 mph.
Result of a serious
Road traffic injuries represent about 25% of worldwide injury-related
deaths (the leading cause) with an estimated 1.2 million deaths (2004) each
Automobile accidents are almost as old as automobiles themselves. Early
Mary Ward, who became one of the first document automobile fatalities in
Henry Bliss, one of the
United State's first
pedestrian automobile casualties in 1899 in
Cars have many basic safety problems - for example, they have human drivers
who make mistakes, wheels that lose traction when the braking or turning
forces are too high. Some vehicles have a high
center of gravity and therefore an increased tendency to roll over. When
driven at high speeds, collisions can have serious or even fatal consequence.
Early safety research focused on increasing the reliability of brakes and
reducing the flammability of fuel systems. For example, modern engine
compartments are open at the bottom so that fuel vapors, which are heavier
than air, vent to the open air. Brakes are hydraulic and dual circuit so that
failures are slow leaks, rather than abrupt cable breaks. Systematic research
on crash safety started
in 1958 at
Ford Motor Company. Since then, most research has focused on absorbing
external crash energy with crushable panels and reducing the motion of human
bodies in the passenger compartment. This is reflected in most cars produced
Airbags, a modern component of
Significant reductions in death and injury have come from the addition of Safety
belts and laws in many countries to require vehicle occupants to wear
and specialised child restraint systems have improved on that. Structural
changes such as side-impact protection bars in the doors and side panels of
the car mitigate the effect of impacts to the side of the vehicle. Many cars
now include radar or sonar detectors mounted to the rear of the car to warn
the driver if he or she is about to reverse into an obstacle or a pedestrian.
Some vehicle manufacturers are producing cars with devices that also measure
the proximity to obstacles and other vehicles in front of the car and are
using these to apply the brakes when a collision is inevitable. There have
also been limited efforts to use
heads up displays and
thermal imaging technologies similar to those used in military aircraft to
provide the driver with a better view of the road at night.
There are standard tests for safety in new automobiles, like the EuroNCAP
and the US NCAP tests.
There are also tests run by organizations such as IIHS and backed
by the insurance industry.
Despite technological advances, there is still significant loss of life
from car accidents: About 40,000 people die every year in the
United States, with similar figures in European
nations. This figure increases annually in step with rising population and
increasing travel if no measures are taken, but the rate
capita and per mile traveled decreases steadily. The death toll
is expected to nearly double worldwide by 2020. A much higher number of
accidents result in injury or permanent
disability. The highest accident figures are reported in China and India.
The European Union has a rigid program to cut the death toll in half by 2010,
and member states have started implementing measures.
Automated control has been seriously proposed and successfully prototyped.
Shoulder-belted passengers could tolerate a 32 g
emergency stop (reducing the safe inter-vehicle gap 64-fold) if high-speed
roads incorporated a steel rail for emergency braking. Both safety
modifications of the roadway are thought to be too expensive by most funding
authorities, although these modifications could dramatically increase the
number of vehicles able to safely use a high-speed highway.
This makes clear the often-ignored fact
road design and
traffic control also play a part in car wrecks; unclear traffic signs,
inadequate signal light placing, and poor planning (curved bridge approaches
which become icy in winter, for example), also contribute.
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