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The evolution of auto designs

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1925 Ford Model T touring, built at Henry Ford’s Highland Park Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. This example now resides in Australia, owned by the founder of FordModelT.net — wikimedia commons

It is perhaps in the automobile industry where the latest in innovation in technology and design were exemplified throughout time. From the early automobiles powered by steam engines to contemporary driverless cars of today, vehicle designs have evolved and continue to do so historically.

The breakthroughs and innovation in automobiles were primarily driven by the necessity to make it more safe, comfortable, powerfully reliable, and even a standout on the road aesthetics-wise.

According to History.com, it was in the late 1800s that the automobile was first invented and perfected in Germany and France. The very first automobile, History.com says, is generally credited to 18th century French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot but it is 1880’s German inventor and automaker Karl Benz who is generally credited as the Father of automobile.

It is said that in the early 1900s, Detroit automaker Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry with his gasoline-powered automobiles. History.com said that in this period, numerous companies were beginning to make automobiles but it was Mr. Ford who succeeded in mass-producing it — therefore making it more accessible to the public and not just for the affluent.

Mr. Ford was known for his Model T or also called as the “Tin Lizzie,” which is said to be the first car that is affordable for majority of the Americans.  First offered in 1908, the four-cylinder, 20-horsepower Model T is easier to drive because of its two-speed planetary transmission. History.com explained that because of its detachable cylinder head, Model T was easier to repair, and its high chassis meanwhile, was designed to clear the bumps in rural roads. Moreover, made from Vanadium steel, this automobile was considered then as a lighter and tougher car.

It was reported that between 1913 and 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts have been sold — paving the way for increased mobility of Americans.

The benefit of expanded mobility, however, according to an article by the National Museum of American History (NMAH), was accompanied by various risks.

“In the 1910s, speeding, reckless driving, collisions, and pedestrian fatalities were new problems requiring new solutions,” NMAH noted.

“Americans were slow to understand the importance of redesigning automobiles to make driving safer. At first, the automobile was perceived as a neutral device that merely responded to a driver’s commands and could not cause an accident. But by the late 1920s, manufacturers acknowledged that design flaws compromised safety. They introduced a technological response to safety issues, adding shatter-resistant windshields and four-wheel brakes instead of two-wheel brakes,” NMAH further explained.

To further address the concern, NMAH said that in the 1930s, new safety improvements such as all-steel bodies and hydraulic brakes were actively promoted by automakers. Moreover, it is also around this time that seat belts, energy-absorbing steering columns, and padded dashboards were invented.

Decades after, response to auto safety problems in a scientific manner were introduced. NMAH said that crash testings were done in universities exploring the causes and effects of bodily impact inside a car during a collision. The study then paved the way for the realization that seat belts and padded dashboards were necessary. Thus, by 1956, these features became available as options for new cars.

In the early 1960s, NMAH stated that there were many state legislatures passed laws requiring seat belts or seat belt anchors in new cars; and by 1968, seat belts, padded dashboards, and other safety features became mandatory equipment.

NMAH continued that in the 1990s, seat belts became widely accepted; and by 1998, the federal government also required air bags as standard equipment.

In 2000, precision GPS navigation became available to the public but the appearance of these systems for automobiles, according to reports, can be traced as early as decades before the turn of the millennium.

Fast-forward to contemporary times, the automobile industry continues to showcase dynamic innovation on technology and design. According to reports, electric cars are going mainstream for this 2018, and this will pave the way for breakthrough designs as manufacturers are positioning themselves in the market. Moreover, it is projected that the market will see in the next few months an increase in the functionality inside car cabins such as dynamic displays, and more touch screens functions. — Romsanne R. Ortiguero