by: Jay Fozwell
Now that summer is here, vacations are being planned. Growing up in Ohio, this always meant a road trip for my family to the nearest family friendly beach on the east coast. Translation – lots of “quality time” in the station wagon – our family car. Being the youngest I would get sentenced to the rear cargo area where I got to sit on a hinged, folding metal plate that hid the spare tire.
Reflecting on this I cannot help but to think about the extent to which automobiles have improved since those days in the mid-70s. Everything has become better: fuel efficiency, safety, aesthetics, emissions, and now even connectivity is in the mix. Functions and features are ever evolving to give owners and passengers a better experience in their vehicles. No longer are cars just for transportation, they are habitats suited to their owners’ lifestyles.
Driving – yes, pun intended – these evolutionary improvements are ingenuity and market intelligence, engineering and design, and production capabilities. Henry Ford produced the Model A in 1903 which began the automotive revolution. Ford followed quickly on this model with the game changer, the Model T build on assembly lines by skilled worker – better design, smarter production processes, and excellent craftsmen. By a decade later, more than half of all vehicle owners drove a Model T.
And while for decades the automobile was the iconic representation of American industrial age, it should be noted that automobile technology began in Europe. The internal combustion engine was introduced in 1860 by Etienne Lenoir, a Belgian mechanic. Then in 1878 the four-stroke engine (internal combustion) was developed by a German manufacturer, Nicholas Otto (an Otto-mechanic?). Gottlieb Daimler, an engineer working for Otto, applied the internal combustion engine as a power source for vehicles (in 1885). In the same year, a three-wheeled vehicle was introduced by Carl Benz, another German manufacturer. And ten years later, a French inventor named Emile Lavassor developed the basic configuration of the automobile with an engine in the front of the chassis, and he introduced radiation systems and a crankshaft integrated with gearing, a clutch and gear shift.
And then came Ford who raised innovation to a commercial level. Cars became afFORDable. No longer was horsepower relegated to the animal. Mobility for the masses became the norm.
Fast forward to today. Our cars have engineered tires, airbags, GPS, heated and cooled seats, internet and entertainment systems, audio and telephony, power from gas, electric or both, and some even want to park themselves without our help. All this technology still driven by ingenuity and market intelligence, engineering and design, and production capabilities implemented by efficient production processes developed by engineers and operated by skilled craftsmen, operators, and technicians.
So, as you embark on your summer road trips in the coming weeks, think about the structural welds holding your chassis together, or the elegant chemistry that bonds reinforcing fillers into the resin of your bumpers, or the rolling resistance engineered into the material and design of your tires. This just might give you a slightly different appreciation for the comfort and safety amenities of your sweet ride while enroute to see the Giant Ball of Twine in Kansas.