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automobile | Definition, History, Industry, Design, & Facts

Automotive design

The modern automobile is a complex technical system employing subsystems with specific design functions. Some of these consist of thousands of component parts that have evolved from breakthroughs in existing technology or from new technologies such as electronic computers, high-strength plastics, and new alloys of steel and nonferrous metals. Some subsystems have come about as a result of factors such as air pollution, safety legislation, and competition between manufacturers throughout the world.

Passenger cars have emerged as the primary means of family transportation, with an estimated 1.4 billion in operation worldwide. About one-quarter of these are in the United States, where more than three trillion miles (almost five trillion kilometres) are traveled each year. In recent years, Americans have been offered hundreds of different models, about half of them from foreign manufacturers. To capitalize on their proprietary technological advances, manufacturers introduce new designs ever more frequently. With some 70 million new units built each year worldwide, manufacturers have been able to split the market into many very small segments that nonetheless remain profitable.

New technical developments are recognized to be the key to successful competition. Research and development engineers and scientists have been employed by all automobile manufacturers and suppliers to improve the body, chassis, engine, drivetrain, control systems, safety systems, and emission-control systems.

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These outstanding technical advancements are not made without economic consequences. According to a study by Ward’s Communications Incorporated, the average cost for a new American car increased $4,700 (in terms of the value of the dollar in 2000) between 1980 and 2001 because of mandated safety and emission-control performance requirements (such as the addition of air bags and catalytic converters). New requirements continued to be implemented in subsequent years. The addition of computer technology was another factor driving up car prices, which increased by 29 percent between 2009 and 2019. This is in addition to the consumer costs associated with engineering improvements in fuel economy, which may be offset by reduced fuel purchases.

Vehicle design depends to a large extent on its intended use. Automobiles for off-road use must be durable, simple systems with high resistance to severe overloads and extremes in operating conditions. Conversely, products that are intended for high-speed, limited-access road systems require more passenger comfort options, increased engine performance, and optimized high-speed handling and vehicle stability. Stability depends principally on the distribution of weight between the front and rear wheels, the height of the centre of gravity and its position relative to the aerodynamic centre of pressure of the vehicle, suspension characteristics, and the selection of which wheels are used for propulsion. Weight distribution depends principally on the location and size of the engine. The common practice of front-mounted engines exploits the stability that is more readily achieved with this layout. The development of aluminum engines and new manufacturing processes has, however, made it possible


bicycle | Definition, History, Types, & Facts

Bicycle predecessors

Historians disagree about the invention of the bicycle, and many dates are challenged. It is most likely that no individual qualifies as the inventor and that the bicycle evolved through the efforts of many. Although Leonardo da Vinci was credited with having sketched a bicycle in 1492 in his Codex Atlanticus, the drawing was discovered to be a forgery added in the 1960s. Another presumed bicycle ancestor, the vélocifère, or célérifère, of the 1790s was a fast horse-drawn coach that is not considered to be a predecessor of the bicycle.

Draisiennes, hobby-horses, and other velocipedes

The first two-wheeled rider-propelled machine for which there is indisputable evidence was the draisienne, invented by Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun of Germany. In 1817 he rode it for 14 km (9 miles), and the following year he exhibited it in Paris. Although von Drais called his device a Laufmaschine (“running machine”), draisienne and velocipede became more popular names. The machine was made of wood, and the seated rider propelled himself by paddling his feet against the ground. A balance board supported the rider’s arms. Although von Drais was granted patents, copies were soon being produced in other countries, including Great Britain, Austria, Italy, and the United States.

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Denis Johnson of London purchased a draisienne and patented an improved model in 1818 as the “pedestrian curricle.” The following year he produced more than 300, and they became commonly known as hobby-horses. They were very expensive, and many buyers were members of the nobility. Caricaturists called the devices “dandy horses,” and riders were sometimes jeered in public. The design raised health concerns, and riding proved impractical except on smooth roads. Johnson’s production ended after only six months. The brief draisienne–hobby-horse fad did not lead to sustained development of two-wheeled vehicles, but von Drais and Johnson established that the machines could remain balanced while in motion. For the next 40 years, most experimenters focused on human-powered three- and four-wheeled velocipedes.

Treadles and pedals: powered velocipedes

There is evidence that a small number of two-wheeled machines with rear treadle drives were built in southwestern Scotland during the early 1840s. Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a blacksmith of Dumfriesshire, is most often associated with these. He is said to have traveled 40 miles (64 km) to Glasgow in 1842, although documentation is problematic. Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow probably built a similar two-wheeled machine in the mid-1840s and is said to have operated it for many years. This may be the heavily restored machine in the Glasgow Museum of Transport. It has wooden wheels and iron rims. The rider’s feet swung treadles back and forth, moving a pair of rods connected to cranks on the rear wheels. Thomas McCall, another Scotsman, built similar machines in the late 1860s. Documents indicate that Alexandre Lefèbvre of Saint-Denis, France, built a two-wheeled velocipede powered by treadles connected to cranks on the rear wheel


Top 10 Interesting Facts About Transportation

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In the United States almost all of the producers were assemblers who put together components and parts that were manufactured by separate firms. The assembly technique also lent itself to an advantageous method of financing. It was possible to begin building motor vehicles with a minimal investment of capital by buying parts on credit and selling the finished cars for cash; the cash sale from manufacturer to dealer has been integral in the marketing of motor vehicles in the United States ever since. European automotive firms of this period tended to be more self-sufficient.

The pioneer automobile manufacturer not only had to solve the technical and financial problems of getting into production but also had to make a basic decision about what to produce. After the first success of the gasoline engine, there was widespread experimentation with steam and electricity. For a brief period the electric automobile actually enjoyed the greatest acceptance because it was quiet and easy to operate, but the limitations imposed by battery capacity proved competitively fatal. Especially popular with women, electric cars remained in limited production well into the 1920s. One of the longest-surviving makers, Detroit Electric Car Company, operated on a regular basis through 1929.

Steam power, a more serious rival, was aided by the general adoption, after 1900, of the so-called flash boiler, in which steam could be raised rapidly. The steam car