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A small variety of cars, the most popular kind of automobile.
A small variety of cars, the most popular kind of automobile.
An automobile is a wheeled vehicle that carries its own motor. Different types of automobiles include cars, buses, trucks, vans, and motorcycles, with cars being the most popular. The term is derived from Greek 'autos' (self) and Latin 'movére' (move), referring to the fact that it 'moves by itself'. Earlier terms for automobile include ' horseless carriage' and 'motor car'. An automobile has seats for the driver and, almost without exception, one or more passengers. It is the main source of transportation across the world. As of 2005 there are 500 million cars worldwide (0.074 per capita), of which 220 million are located in the United States (0.75 per capita).

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Alternative fuels and batteries
Current Production
Future of the car
Major possible subsystems

History - Contents

The history of automobiles
The modern automobile powered by the Otto gasoline engine was invented in Germany by Karl Benz. Even though Karl Benz is credited with the invention of the modern automobile, several other German engineers worked on building the first automobile at the same time. These inventors are: Karl Benz on July 3, 1886 in Mannheim, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart (also inventors of the first motor bike) and in 1888/89 German- Austrian inventor Siegfried Marcus in Vienna, although Marcus didn't go beyond the prototype stage.
Automobile history eras
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Veteran Brass Vintage Pre-War Post-War Modern

Steam powered vehicles
Steam-powered self-propelled cars were devised in the late 18th century. The first self-propelled car was built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769, it could attain speeds of up to 6 km/h. In 1771 he designed another steam-driven car, which ran so fast that it rammed into a wall, producing the world’s first car accident.

The Internal Combustion Engine
In 1806 Fransois Isaac de Rivaz, a Swiss, designed the first internal combustion engine (sometimes abbreviated "ICE" today). He subsequently used it to develop the world’s first vehicle to run on such an engine, one that used a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to generate energy. It was not very successful, as was the case with the British inventor, Brown, and the American inventor, Morey, who produced clumsy IC-engine-powered vehicles about 1826.Etienne Lenoir produced the first successful internal-combustion engine in 1860, and within a few years, about 400 were in operation in Paris. In about 1863, Lenoir installed his engine in a vehicle. It seems to have been powered by city lighting-gas in bottles, and was said by Lenoir to have "travelled slower than a man could walk, with breakdowns being frequent." Lenoir, in his patent of 1860, included the provision of a carburettor, so liquid fuel could be substituted for gas, particularly for mobile purposes, i.e., vehicles. Lenoir is said to have tested liquid fuel, such as alcohol, in his stationary engines; but it doesn't appear he used them in his vehicle. If he did, he most certainly didn't use gasoline, as this was not well-known and was considered a waste product.The next innovation comes in the 1860s, with Siegfried Marcus, a German working in Vienna, Austria. He developed the idea of using gasoline as a fuel in a two-stroke internal-combustion engine. In 1870, he built a crude vehicle, with no seats, steering or brakes, but it was spectacular for one reason: it was the world's first internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle fueled by gasoline. It was tested in Vienna in September of 1870. In 1888/1889, he built a second car, this one with seats, brakes and steering, and a four-stroke engine of his own design.The four-stroke engine had already been written down and patented in 1862 by the Frenchman Beau de Rochas in a long-winded and rambling pamphlet. He printed about 300 copies of his pamphlet and they were distributed in Paris, but nothing came of this, with the patent expiring soon after and the pamphlet disappearing into total obscurity. In fact, hardly anyone knew of it to begin with. Beau de Rochas never built a single engine.Most historians agree that Nikolaus Otto of Germany built the world's first four-stroke engine. He knew nothing of Beau de Rochas's patent or idea, and came upon the idea entirely on his own; in fact, he began thinking about it in 1861, but abandoned the idea until the mid-1870's. There is some evidence, although not conclusive, that one Christian Reithmann, an Austrian living in Germany, had built a four-stroke engine entirely on his own by 1873. Reithmann had been experimenting with IC-engines as early as 1852.In 1883, Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin of France installed an internal-combustion engine powered by a tank of city gas on a tricycle. As they tested the vehicle, the tank hose came loose, resulting in an explosion. In 1884, Delamare-Deboutteville and Malandin built and patented a second vehicle. This one consisted of two four-stroke, liquid-fueled engines mounted to an old four-wheeled horse cart. The patent, and presumably the vehicle, contained many innovations, some of which wouldn't be used for decades. However, during the vehicle's first test, the frame broke apart, the vehicle literally "shaking itself to pieces," in Malandin's own words. No more vehicles were built by the two men, and their venture went completely unnoticed and their patent unexploited. No one else knew of the vehicles and experiments until years later.Supposedly in the late 1870's, an Italian named Murnigotti patented the idea of installing an IC engine on a vehicle, although there is no evidence one was built. In 1884, Enrico Bernardi, another Italian, installed an IC engine on his son's tricycle. Although nothing more than a toy, it is said to have operated somewhat successfully in one source, but another says the engine's power was too feeble to make the vehicle move.But if all of the above experiments hadn't taken place, the development of the automobile wouldn't have been retarded by so much as a moment, since they were unknown experiments that went no further than the testing stage. The internal-combustion-engined car really can be said to have begun with Benz and Daimler in 1886, for their vehicles were successful, they went into series-production, and they inspired others.Benz, after building his first three-wheeled car in 1885, built improved versions in 1886 and 1887, and went into production in 1888 -- the world's first vehicle to do so. Approximately 25 were built until 1893, when his first four-wheeler was introduced. They were powered with four-stroke engines of his own design. Emile Roger of France, already producing Benz engines under license, now added the Benz car to his line of products. Because France was more open to the automobile in general, more were built and sold in France than by Benz himself in Germany.Daimler built a car in 1886 - a new horse carriage fitted with his new high-speed 4-stroke engine. In 1889, he built two vehicles from scratch, with several innovations. From about 1890-1895 about 30 vehicles were built by Daimler and his innovative assistant, Maybach, either at the Daimler works or in the Hotel Hermann, where they set up shop after having a falling out with their backers.In 1890, Emile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France began series-producing vehicles with Daimler engines, and so laid the foundation of the motor industry in France. They were inspired by Daimler's Stalhradwagen of 1889, which was exhibited in Paris in 1889.The first American automobile with gasoline-powered internal combustion engines was supposedly designed in 1877 by George Baldwin Selden of Rochester, New York, who applied for a patent on the automobile in 1879. Selden didn't build a single car until 1905, when he was forced to do so due to the lawsuit. Selden received his patent and later sued the Ford Motor Company for infringing his patent. Henry Ford was notoriously against the American patent system, and Selden's case against Ford went all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that Ford and everyone else was free to build automobiles without paying royalties to Selden, since automobile technology had improved since Selden's patent, and no one was building those antiquated designs.
Meanwhile, notable advances in steam power evolved in Birmingham, England by the Lunar Society. It was here that the term horsepower was first used. It was in Birmingham also that the first British four wheel petrol-driven automobiles were built in 1895 by Frederick William Lanchester who also patented the disc brake in the city. Electric vehicles were produced by a small number of manufacturers.

Ransom E. Olds, the creator of the Assembly line
Ransom E. Olds, the creator of the Assembly line
The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789; in 1804 Evans demonstrated his first successful self-propelled vehicle, which not only was the first automobile in the US but was also the first amphibious vehicle, as his steam-powered vehicle was able to travel on wheels on land and via a paddle wheel in the water.On 5 November 1895, George B. Selden was granted a United States patent for a two-stroke automobile engine ( U.S. Patent 549160). This patent did more to hinder than encourage development of autos in the USA. A major breakthrough came with the historic drive of Bertha Benz in 1888. Steam, electric, and gasoline powered autos competed for decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s.
The interior of a modern luxury car, a Bentley Continental GT
The interior of a modern luxury car, a Bentley Continental GT
The large scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was debuted by Oldsmobile in 1902, then greatly expanded by Henry Ford in the 1910s. Early automobiles were often referred to as 'horseless carriages', and did not stray far from the design of their predecessor. Through the period from 1900 to the mid 1920s, 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 four-wheel brakes.By the 1930s, most of the technology used in automobiles had been invented, although it was often re-invented again at a later date and credited to someone else. For example, front-wheel drive was re-introduced by Andre Citroën with the launch of the Traction Avant in 1934, though it appeared several years earlier in road cars made by Alvis and Cord, and in racing cars by Miller (and may have appeared as early as 1897). After 1930, the number of auto manufacturers declined sharply as the industry consolidated and matured. Since 1960, the number of manufacturers has remained virtually constant, and innovation slowed. For the most part, "new" automotive technology was a refinement on earlier work, though these refinements were sometimes so extensive as to render the original work nearly unrecognizable. The chief exception to this was electronic engine management, which entered into wide use in the 1960s, when electronic parts became cheap enough to be mass-produced and rugged enough to handle the harsh environment of an automobile. Developed by Bosch, these electronic systems have enabled automobiles to drastically reduce exhaust emissions while increasing efficiency and power.

Model changeover and design change
An English 1989 Ford Sierra GLS Sports Saloon. No longer in production
An English 1989 Ford Sierra GLS Sports Saloon. No longer in production
A Ford Taurus, a modern family car which has gone through a number of changes.
A Ford Taurus, a modern family car which has gone through a number of changes.
Cars are not merely continually perfected mechanical contrivances; since the 1920s nearly all have been mass-produced to meet a market, so marketing plans and manufacture to meet them have often dominated automobile design. It was Alfred P. Sloan who established the idea of different makes of cars produced by one firm, so that buyers could "move up" as their fortunes improved. The makes shared parts with one another so that the 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 the cheaper mechanical parts made by the Oldsmobile division.

Alternative fuels and batteries - Contents

With heavy taxes on fuel, particularly in Europe and tightening environmental laws, particularly in California, and the possibility of further restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, work on alternative power systems for vehicles continues. Diesel-powered cars can run with little or no modification on 100% pure biodiesel, a fuel that can be made from vegetable oils. Many cars that currently use gasoline can run on ethanol, a fuel made from plant sugars. Most cars that are designed to run on gasoline are capable of running with 15% ethanol mixed in, and with a small amount of redesign, gasoline-powered vehicles can run on ethanol concentrations as high as 85%. All petrol fuelled cars can run on LPG. There has been some concern that the ethanol-gasoline mixtures prematurely wear down seals and gaskets. Further, the use of higher levels of alcohol requires that the automobile carry/use twice as much. Therefore, if your vehicle is capable of 300 miles on a 15-gallon tank, the efficiency is reduced to approximately 150 miles. Of course, certain measures are available to increase this efficiency, such as different camshaft configurations, altering the timing/spark output of the ignition, or simply, using a larger fuel tank.In the United States, alcohol fuel was produced in corn-alcohol stills until Prohibition criminalized the production of alcohol in 1919. Brazil is the only country which produces ethanol-running cars, since the late 1970s.Attempts at building viable battery-powered electric vehicles continued throughout the 1990s (notably General Motors with the EV1), but cost, speed and inadequate driving range made them uneconomical. Battery powered cars have used lead-acid batteries which are greatly damaged in their recharge capacity if discharged beyond 75% on a regular basis and NiMH batteries.Current research and development is centered on " hybrid" vehicles that use both electric power and internal combustion. The first hybrid vehicle available for sale in the USA was the Honda Insight. As of 2005, The car is still in production and achieves around 60 mpg.Other R&D efforts in alternative forms of power focus on developing fuel cells, alternative forms of combustion such as GDI and HCCI, and even the stored energy of compressed air (see water Engine).

Safety - Contents

A Mini in Paris, France
A Mini in Paris, France
Automobiles were a significant improvement in safety on a per passenger mile basis, over the horse based travel that they replaced. Millions have been able to reach medical care much more quickly when transported by ambulance. Accidents seem as old as automobile vehicles themselves. Joseph Cugnot crashed his steam-powered "Fardier" against a wall in 1770. The first recorded automobile fatality was Bridget Driscoll on 1896- 08-17 in London and the first in the United States was Henry Bliss on 1899- 09-13 in New York City, NY.Cars have two basic safety problems: They have human drivers who make mistakes, and the wheels lose traction near a half gravity of deceleration. Automated control has been seriously proposed and successfully prototyped. Shoulder-belted passengers could tolerate a 32 G emergency stop (reducing the safe intervehicle 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 that could safely use a high-speed highway.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 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.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 U.S., with similar figures in Europe. This figure increases annually in step with rising population and increasing travel if no measures are taken, but the rate per capita and per mile travelled 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 the EU in half by 2010 and member states have started implementing measures.

Current Production - Contents

In 2005 63 million cars and light trucks were produced worldwide. The world's biggest car producer (including light trucks) is the European Union with 29% of the world's production. In non-EU Eastern Europe another 4% are produced. The second largest manufacturer is NAFTA with 25,8%, followed by Japan with 16,7%, China with 8,1%, MERCOSUR with 3,9%, India with 2,4% and the rest of the world with 10,1%. (vda-link)Large free trade areas like EU, NAFTA and MERCOSUR attract manufacturers worldwide to produce their products within them and without currency risks or customs, additionally to being close to customers. Thus the production figures do not show the technological ability or business skill of the areas. In fact much if not most of the Third World car production is used western technology and car models (and sometimes even complete obsolete western factories shipped to the country), which is reflected in the patent statistic as well as the locations of the r&d centers.The automobile industry is dominated by relatively few large corporations (not to be confused with the much more numerous brands), the biggest of which (by numbers of produced cars) are currently General Motors, Toyota and Ford Motor Company. It is expected, that Toyota will reach the No.1 position in 2006. The most profitable carmaker of recent years has been Porsche.The automotive industry at large still suffers from high under-utilization of its manufacturing potential.

Future of the car - Contents

In order to limit deaths, there has been a push for self-driving automobiles. Much of the drive for computer-driven vehicles has been led by DARPA with their Grand Challenge race.A current and powerful invention was ESP by Bosch and many followers that reduces deaths by about 30% and is recommended by many lawmakers and carmakers to be a standard feature in all cars sold in the EU. ESP recognizes dangerous situations and corrects the drivers input for a short moment to stabilize the car.The biggest threat to automobiles is the declining supply of oil, which does not completely stop car usage but makes it significantly more expensive. Beginning of 2006 a gallon of gas costs approx. 6 US$ in Germany and other European countries. If no cheap solution can be found in the relatively near future individual mobility might suffer a major setback.Looking at automotive technology some areas appear to have the most need of development. For example, both the rubber tires and the batteries currently used by most cars seem rather antiquated when compared to,say, modern-day engines and traction-control systems. These are like jets with cardboard wings or PCs with 10 KB hard drives respectively. While slow moving cars can control their wheels via ESP reasonably well, fast moving vehicles like a Bugatti Veyron need a special tire checkup before approaching 400 km/h. Also the existing batteries are barely fit to handle the cars electronics but are far off from the ability to store enough energy for moving the car unassisted.

Major possible subsystems - Contents

  • engine
    • carburetor or fuel injection
    • fuel pump
    • engine configuration: Wankel or reciprocating ( V, inline, flat).
    • engine management systems
    • exhaust system
    • ignition system
    • self starter
    • emissions control devices
    • turbochargers and superchargers
    • front engine
    • rear engine
    • mid engine
  • Ancillary power - mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, vacuum, air
  • drivetrain
    • transmission ( gearbox)
      • manual transmission
      • semi-automatic transmission
      • fully-automatic transmission
    • Layout
      • FF layout
      • FR layout
      • MR layout
      • RR layout
    • Drive Wheels
      • 2 wheel drive
      • 4 wheel drive
      • Front wheel drive
      • Rear wheel drive
      • All wheel drive
    • differential
      • limited slip differential
      • locking differential
    • axle
    • Live axle
  • brakes
    • disc brakes
    • drum brakes
    • anti-lock braking systems (ABS)
  • wheels and tires
    • custom wheels
  • steering
    • rack and pinion
    • Ackermann steering geometry
    • Caster angle
    • Camber angle
    • Kingpin
  • suspension
    • MacPherson strut
    • wishbone
    • double wishbone
    • multi-link
    • torsion beam
    • semi-trailing arm
    • axle
  • body
    • crumple zones
    • monocoque (or unibody) construction
    • Category:Car doors
    • spoiler
    • Japan Black (fore-runner of modern automotive finishes)
  • interior equipment
    • passive safety
      • seat belts
      • airbags
      • child safety locks
    • dashboard
    • shifter for selecting gear ratios
    • ancillary equipment such as stereos, air conditioning, cruise control, car phones, positioning systems, cup holders, etc.
  • exterior equipment
    • windows
      • Power window
      • windshield
      • Daytime running lamps
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