How Technology in Cars Changed Over the Years

Have you ever wondered what cars were like in the past? You may be surprised that some technology that seems modern dates back 10, 20, or even 200 years. Here's a glimpse into the evolution of car technology.

Electric Cars Have a Long History

Electric cars were first invented nearly 200 years ago. By the late 1800s, these vehicles were a viable alternative to gas and steam-powered cars. The benefits of such cars are similar to why some people like them today. Such electric cars were quieter and didn't emit exhaust fumes. 

So why did the electric car disappear? Henry Ford's invention of the Model T in 1918 took the market by storm. These gas-powered cars were very affordable, and the electric car couldn't compete. 

However, electric cars made a comeback later in the 1970s during an oil crisis where there were gas shortages and long lines at the pump. The disruption led many to reconsider the electric car as an alternative to using gas for fuel.

Self-Driving Cars

Autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars sound like a science fiction story. However, these cars are already on the road in select places. The promise of autonomous vehicles is they will make the roads safer and more efficient. The biggest early advance in self-driving cars was the creation of an auto lab at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s. 

Technology continued to advance, and now, there are "connected cars," which use sensors to reduce the chances of crashes. Numerous companies, including Google, are investing a lot to develop these cars. However, your chance to buy and own an autonomous vehicle is still far in the future. They are not currently for sale.

What Happened to Smart Cars?

You may have seen tiny cars that can fit in any parking spot. These two-person vehicles dubbed "smart cars" were popular in Europe. But they didn't translate very well in the U.S. An inventor working at the Swiss watch company, Swatch, came up with the idea of an efficient car. 

Smart cars aren't as popular in the United States because of safety concerns. The makers of these cars haven't made convincing arguments that tiny cars can hold their own around larger vehicles.  

Furthermore, compact smart cars were less popular than the sport utility vehicle (SUV). SUVs could carry people and cargo more comfortably for long trips in the spread-out U.S. landscape. Flagging sales for these cars has caused one maker to discontinue smart cars for the U.S. and Canada.

Electronic Features to Help You Drive

Today's cars have many sensors to help you with various driving and car maintenance tasks. Many of these sensors originated in the 1970s and 1980s but then were modernized in the 1990s and beyond. With increased computerization, automobiles included features for safety and ease.

Some electronic features have almost become mandatory to how useful they are. Automotive global positioning systems (GPS) and emergency roadside notification are some well-known advances that have been included in most cars due to their popularity. Adaptive features, like cruise control and headlights, are also common. Our survey found that 46% and 38% of drivers have these in their cars, respectively.

Many other electronic sensors make driving a breeze. A backup camera makes it easier to see behind you, even at night. In our survey, we found that 62% of drivers have a backup camera on their main vehicle.

Parking sensors let you know your car's position in relation to the curb and other cars. There are numerous features on most cars today, like these, although they vary by model and year. 

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