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A Brief History of the Automotive Industry

Published on May 8, 2014 by in Blog, CATI

A Brief History of the Automotive Industry

No invention transformed the everyday life of North Americans in the twentieth century more than the automobile. Although European engineers had been tinkering with motor powered vehicles since the late 1700’s and the technology for the automobile existed in the 19th century, it took Henry Ford to make the vehicles truly accessible to the public. Ford came up with the idea of the assembly line for automobile manufacturing, even paying his workers an unprecedented $5 a day when most labourers were bringing home $2, hoping it would increase their productivity. Furthermore, they could use their higher earnings to purchase a new car and would receive training to further their skills, such as auto mechanic training.

Ford’s Model T sold for $490 in 1914, about one quarter the cost of the previous decade. By 1920, there were over eight million registrations. The 1920s saw tremendous growth in automobile ownership, with the number of registered drivers almost tripling to 23 million by the end of the decade.

Today’s cars come in all sizes and are the subject of countless innovations by some of the smartest engineers on the planet. They are equipped with hybrid or electric engines and continue to get smarter in both their design and usage.

If you’d like to become a mechanic or are currently enrolled in an auto mechanic course, there’s no better way to truly understand how far we’ve come than to look back on the history of the automobile industry.


The German inventor Karl Benz (a familiar name for any car aficionado) creates the first automobile, a “Motorwagen” equipped with only three wheels. Benz continues tinkering with his invention, later adding a fourth wheel, rear brakes and even a fuel tank.


In Detroit, Michigan, the first independent car dealership is opened by William Metzger. That same year, the first franchise car dealership also opened its doors, this one in Reading, Pennsylvania.


A resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robert E. Twyford, patents the first ever mechanical power steering mechanism as part of US Patent #646, 477, issued on April 3rd, for a four wheel drive system.


The first gasoline-electric hybrid automobile in the world, the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid, is put together by Ferdinand Porsche.


The Ford Motor Company introduces the now-legendary Model T to the marketplace, the first car conceived with the American family in mind. The friendlier price point allows Ford to move more units, which translates into a bigger market for cars and automotive products.


Henry Ford revolutionizes the automobile business by establishing the assembly line, an automated process for the construction of vehicles. This greatly reduces the Model T’s price point, making the car more accessible and affordable.


In Colorado, one of the first franchise laws is passed, allowing the state to regulate the arrangements between manufacturers and dealers. This means more protection for consumers, and more consistency between dealerships.


A car phone is used for the first time, by Bell System in St. Louis. The equipment weights over 80 pounds (!) and there are only three channels available for all users in the area.


Sierra Sam, the world’s first crash test dummy, is used for impact testing.


Seatbelts are used as standard equipment in all vehicles for the first time by the company Studebaker-Packard.


In Colorado, one of the first franchise laws is passed, allowing the state to regulate the arrangements between manufacturers and dealers. This means more protection for consumers, and more consistency between dealerships.


The birth of the airbag industry comes with Allan Breed’s patent, US Patent #5,071,161, for a “sensor and safety system” allowing crashes to be detected. The first car to use this system to deploy an airbag is the 1973 Oldsmobile Toronado, keeping its drivers safer.


Sales of sports utility vehicles help revitalize the industry, as automakers make about $10,000 per unit on a SUV or a Truck, compared to breaking even for a compact car.


With the release of the Toyota Prius in Japan, the hybrid-electric car becomes widely available to consumers. The vehicle is followed two years later by the launch of Honda’s model, the Insight.


At a private event held at the Barker Hanger at the Santa Monica Airport, the Tesla Roadster is officially revealed to the public. Two years later, the first Tesla from the production line is officially delivered to Telsa’s co-founder and chairman, Elon Musk, becoming the first electric car that doesn’t sacrifice performance for fuel economy.


Toyota announces that the Prius, the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, has surpassed the one million sales mark. That same year, gasoline prices are at an all-time high and US President George W. Bush is forced to approve a record loan of 17.4 billion dollars to bailout General Motors and Chrysler, which are experiencing financial trouble.


The first license for an autonomous car is issued to a Toyota Prius equipped with Google’s experimental driverless technology.

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