One of the joys of working in the retail auto industry is witnessing the stream of new technologies that are introduced into vehicles.
For over a hundred years, technological breakthroughs have defined the auto industry and have contributed to ongoing improvement in speed, safety, reliability, visual appeal and sheer driving pleasure.
The history of automobile technology can be traced back to the mid 18th century, with the introduction of the world's first steam-powered road vehicle, in France. According to legend, it was used to haul cannons.
In 1886, the first gasoline-powered automobile was invented by Karl Benz, which paved the way for the world's first assembly-line production of gas-powered vehicles 22 years later with Ford's Model T, in 1908.
The Model T was the starting point for many groundbreaking technologies in the decades that followed. In 1911, the first electric starters were introduced, which replaced the cumbersome hand crank method of starting a car.
During the 20s, safety glass that didn't shatter was incorporated into car designs to protect car occupants in the event of an accident. Car radios began appearing in automobiles, ushering in a new era of in-car entertainment. By the late 1920s, most vehicles used a four-wheel mechanical brake system, which coincided with the increased speed and power of cars.
Until the 1930s, cars handled roughly, especially over bumpy and uneven surfaces. This led to the introduction of independent coil spring suspension, which provided better handling. In the early 1930s, synthetic rubber was introduced in tires, which led to better tire quality and a more comfortable ride.
In the late 1930s, the automatic transmission was introduced into automobiles, which was quite revolutionary because it allowed more people to drive and it lowered driver fatigue. (The automatic transmission was invented by a Canadian - Alfred Horner Munro of Saskatchewan.)
Although it had been designed and contemplated for decades, power steering became a common feature in automobiles in the mid-1950s, and by the end of the decade, over 75 per cent of automobiles boasted power steering.
By the 1970s, automobile technology shifted to a higher gear. The early '70s saw the emergence of catalytic converters, which helped to reduce tailpipe emissions; and the adoption of seat belt laws, which required occupants to buckle up. Seat belts had been installed on select models over a decade before laws mandated their use.
For decades, automobiles featured carburetors that blended air and fuel for gas-fueled engines. By the late 1980s, carburetors were replaced by electronic fuel injection systems, a technology that was first introduced by Mercedes-Benz and General Motors in the 1950s. This technology was dictated more from the requirements of catalytic converters, which required more precise fuel-air mixture.
The 1980s was a decade that yielded another wave of innovation with ABS braking systems, traction control, air bags, turbocharged engines and computer-assisted diagnostics and navigation systems. On-board diagnostics allowed technicians to solve mechanical problems with greater speed and accuracy, and navigation systems allowed motorists to get from Point A to Point B with greater ease.
In 1997, the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle - the Toyota Prius - went on sale. The worldwide success of the Prius was a game changer and inspired new research and development in alternative power sources, such as hybrid, all-electric, hydrogen, ethanol, biodiesel and natural gas.
In the past decade, automotive technology has continued with the introduction of smart (or connected) cars. Smart cars include onboard system diagnosis, Bluetooth and navigation capability, roadside assistance, voice commands and hands free controls, internet connectivity for music and audio, and more.
I doubt our ancestors could have envisioned how automobile technology would evolve to where it is today. Where will auto technology be in the next 50 years?