In 2018 if a car comes without electric windows or power steering, it’s classed as being ‘old-fashioned’ or even antique! Nonetheless, what we take for granted now weren’t ever-present in the cars our parents and grandparents drove. Specifically, who invented the world’s inaugural motor vehicle may be up for discussion – some say it was German inventor Karl Benz – but what cannot be contested, rest assured, is that it didn’t mirror the modern hi-tech cars we see and drive today.
Karl Benz’s first petrol automobile, produced back in 1885, was operated by means of a single cylinder four-stroke engine. Some 133 years later, this increased to either three, four or six cylinders.
Besides this though, how else have cars developed over the years? We explore advancements in car technology throughout history and how it has changed the face of the car industry. After all, as technology keeps evolving, so too will the car we drive.
The car radio
When we get into our cars, the first thing we often do (after putting our seatbelt on of course) is to choose our favourite radio station for the journey ahead. While this is second nature to us these days, it was first introduced to our vehicles in 1930.
The brainchild of inventors Paul and Joseph Galvin and William Lear gave drivers access to monophonic AM radio in the comfort of their cars. Compact cassettes arrived on the scene in the 1960s, before car stereos started to rival home versions for their sound quality in the 80s. Nowadays, a lot of drivers connect their own music systems – often their mobile phones – to listen to their favourite tunes, and if we don’t, many car radio systems are now touchscreen.
Despite anti-locking brakes now being included in all cars in the interests of safety, they haven’t always come as standard. ABS’s development has been a long process since first being a concept in the 1920s. Until the 1950s, the system was primarily used on aircrafts, but by the 60s, car manufacturers began to experiment with the technology. It wasn’t until the 90s that ABS and related systems became commonplace.
These days you would be forgiven for thinking parking sensors haven’t been around for very long; lots of cars, particularly low-range models, don’t have them. However, they first burst onto the scene in the 70s and were originally supposed to be guidance devices for the blind.
Through the use of special ultrasonic technology from within the car’s bumpers, sensors pick up any obstacles and monitor surroundings as the vehicle gets closer to them, emitting a louder and faster bleeping noise as you get nearer. This device become widely used in the early 2000s and is now the most common and basic parking system available.
Digital cameras have so many different uses these days that it makes sense to include them in our cars for both safety and convenience. Whether it’s a dash-cam to record everything that is happening around you or reverse cameras to help you park, these are increasingly becoming a typical addition to any new car.
Nonetheless, similar to parking sensors, rear parking cameras have been around for much longer than you’d think. In 1956, Buick’s Centurion concept car included the technology. However, again like parking sensors, this helpful tool wasn’t used mainstream until the turn of the millennium.
The days are gone (hopefully!) where your car would break down with you having no idea what’s wrong with it. Since 1994, on-board diagnostics have been able to indicate to us that there is a problem before it’s too late. We may not know what the symbols always mean, but by detecting a fault or an issue, we are able to seek the help to fix the problem before it causes further issues.
You’d be surprised to know that electric engine cars were actually invented and introduced to public highways over 100 years ago, but it’s only really recently that they’ve been as popular on the scale we see today. By 2030, the UK’s government has proposed that three-fifths of cars sold should be electric. Whether this target is met remains to be seen, but with Vauxhall dealers ready to introduce the new electric version of the popular Corsa to their fleet next year, it’s clear that many manufacturers realise the importance of the electric car’s future.
These technological developments and breakthroughs we have seen are by no means the only ones however. There are many more that could be mentioned such as the introduction of cigarette lighters in 1921, intermittent windscreen wipers in 1969 and, more recently, lane departure warnings in 2010. With plans in place to have fully autonomous cars rolled out as soon as 2021, it’s clear that car technology will never cease to change in the car industry. The invention would mean that in less than 150 years, we would have gone from our first car to our maiden autonomous car. Now that is fast!