We’re often quick to credit Ford Motors with introducing the automobile to the world, but the history of the automobile actually dates back to the 15th century. Learn more from the South Ogden car repair team at Master Muffler.

Leonardo DaVinci is known for his work as an inventor, and the Library of Congress shares documentation that he had many designs for different types of vehicles. While there isn’t a definitive answer for who invented the very first functioning car, let’s look at the history of some of the different types of automobiles.

Notable Advances in Transportation

Overseas, inventors were hard at work perfecting their designs and creating powered vehicles. So, who was the first to successfully put horses out of business by replacing them with an engine?

  • 1769 – The first steam-propelled tractor was invented in France by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot.
  • 1830s – An electric carriage was invented by  Robert Anderson in Scotland.
  • 1880s – A gasoline-powered automobile (three-wheeled) with an internal combustion engine was invented by Karl Friedrich Benz in Germany.
  • 1886 – Also in Germany, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach created a four-wheeled, gasoline-powered automobile.
  • 1893 – A gasoline-powered car was created by Charles Edgar Duryea and Frank Duryea in the United States.

Following the introduction of automobiles in the US, in the 1900s Detroit became the home base for three major leaders in the industry.

Cars in the 1900s

After Maybach invented the four-wheeled car in 1886, he went on to design the 1901 Mercedes. It featured a 35 horsepower engine which was impressive at the time. Compared to today’s Mercedes, which can have upwards of 600 horsepower, it may not seem like much, however. But considering the average rate of speed for travel before this Mercedes was about 9 miles per hour in a horse-drawn carriage, being able to travel 53 miles per hour in a motor car was exhilarating.

Not to be outdone by Mercedes, the United States produced the first Oldsmobile, named after company founder Ransom E Olds, in 1901 as well. Okay, it doesn’t really compare to the Mercedes when it comes to performance or looks, but it was much more affordable to manufacture and for consumers to purchase. These factors made it a successful-selling vehicle in the early 1900s despite its appearance.

If these two cars contrast with one another so starkly, why are they so important to the auto industry? Well, it would become a challenge for many to combine the design of the Mercedes with the practicality of the Oldsmobile.

The “Big Three”

Worldwide, there are typically three titans in the auto industry for each country. In Germany, the Big Three are currently cited as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. In Japan, it’s Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. In the United States, they are Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. 

The Big Three in the US first made their marks beginning in 1908. In this year, Henry Ford debuted the Model T, and Willliam Durant founded General Motors. When Ransom Olds left his company in 1904, Oldsmobile was acquired by General Motors to keep it afloat. It wouldn’t be until 1925 that Chrysler was founded by Walter Chrysler.

Supply Meets Demand

Before World War II, automakers experienced high demand for their products. Farmers wanted trucks and trackers, and travelers wanted a way to get around other than the slow locomotive or the expensive airplane. 

Ford dominated the market thanks to innovative manufacturing processes and standardization. The company consistently focused on managing growth, which resulted in its ability to produce hundreds of cars every day by 1906. Although Ford is known for utilizing a motorized assembly line for production, it wasn’t until 1913 that this was implemented in the new plant in Highland Park, Michigan.

Copying Ford’s successful processes, General Motors and Chrysler attempted to balance out the market in the late 1920s. The Big Three were leaders who survived the recessive periods of WWI, the stock market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, although they remained intact through these struggles, they weren’t untouched.

A Shift in Habits

In the early 1900s, consumers invested in cars including the Ford A Runabout, the Oldsmobile Roadster, and the sleek Mercedes. Into the 19010s, the Ford Model T was still one of the most popular models, and drivers were also purchasing the Cadillac Touring, the Rolls-Royce, and the Pierce-Arrow.

By the 1920s, it became a time for these original vehicles to either undergo car repairs or be replaced. Drivers wanted newer models, and fewer first-time buyers were in the market. This caused a lull in the industry, as previously automakers had depended on consumers having steady incomes and an interest in these new forms of transportation.

With cars still looking pretty much the same as they did 30 years ago, and with the crash of the economy, it became a more common practice to purchase a car based on payment installments. This new strategy provided a means for Americans to continue purchasing cars, even without cash upfront or any new models to choose from.

When WWII broke out in the 1940s, rationing hit the industry hard. It would take time for manufacturers and consumers alike to recover, and by the 1960s the market was seeing a shift toward Japanese automakers. Due to the defects commonly experienced in American-made cars and their gas-guzzling propensity at the time, by 1980 Japan was the highest-ranking automaker in the world.

Clean Air Act Affects Cars

We can’t discuss the history of the automobile without noting the impact of the Clean Air Act of the 1970s. In order to appeal more to Americans and protect the environment, domestic automakers focused on making more fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly cars. It not only complied with the Clean Air Act but it made American cars comparable to their Japanese competitors.

The Ultimate Race

Automakers are constantly motivated by their previous work, and the work of their competitors, to combine form and function. It has served as fuel for manufactures to improve performance, comply with emissions standards, and turn to alternative energy sources. Currently, Volkswagen ranks as the number one manufacturer in the world, followed by Toyota, Daimler, and Ford. While we’d love to see old Model Ts in our South Ogden car repair shop, we know we’re more likely to see a Camry or an Explorer. If our South Ogden team can help with car repairs, contact us HERE today.