The History of European Cars paper


The need to enhance mobility, the human race dates back in historical times. Tradition a communities employed animals in the enhancement of transportation of animals, human, and goods. This movement was important as it not only saved time but it also enabled relative transactions to be carried out accordingly. In addition, it eased the burden that humans were expected to endure in transporting goods that had substantial weight. It can not be disputed that the invention of automobiles has generated significant benefits to the population in general. During the early times, this was considered a form of prestige and the automobile were entirely employed by the nobility in the society. Notably, this norm has also been perpetuated in the modern society as the value of the car that one drives is a direct reflection of the social class of an individual. Thus automobiles are a representation of prestige as well as class in the society.

Since its invention, the automobile has undergone various changes that reflect the dynamic needs of the population. Globalization can be implicated for the initiation of dynamism in the consumer fraternity. Manufactures, on the other hand, have responded to this positively and increasingly, the features of different cars are being personalized to meet the specific needs of the population. Likewise, different designs have also been developed to address the changing g functional value of the cars. Furthermore, it is worth noting that various manufacturing companies have emerged and competition is seemingly high. This is of paramount importance as it plays a critical role of keeping the quality of the products in check Thus it is beneficial to the consumers as the same have their diverse needs mainstreamed in the designs by manufactures accordingly. It is against this background that this paper provides an intrinsic review of the historic background of cars in Europe. In order to enhance a harmonic consideration, it will later review the history of car manufacturing in the region and underscore the underlying trends in the same.

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History of Automobiles

Historical evidence indicates that the invention of the automobile industry can be traced back to 1769. This marked the beginning of major developments and the first machine to be created was the steam-powered automobile. Generally, Holt ascertains that the invention of this important machine is attributable to various individuals with the pioneers being Isaac Newton and Leonardo de Vinci (45). Steam-powered automobiles were essentially employed in the transportation of humans. Mechanic Joseph Cugot has been cited as the first individual who made significant developments to this first machine. In particular, he employed the steam engine power in his machine and propelled movement. It had only three wheels and was initially employed by the French army in its operations. It had a speed of close to twenty-one meters per hour. Considering that the power of this vehicle was not consistent, Banting ascertained that it made regular stops to build up the required power (13). The steam boiler that was responsible for providing the essential power was situated separately and specifically in front of the vehicle’s body.

Adapted From: Corbett’s The History of Cars, p. 59

The steam engines were made of simple technology and power was derived by heating the water that was placed in the boilers.  The expansion of the resultant steam made the turning of the crankshaft possible and in return, it turned the wheels and made movement possible. This early invention was important t because of the fact that it triggered the development of rail and road that was imperative for movement of goods and people. At this point Glancey cites that Cugnot also invented two locomotives that also depended on steam power. However, their functioning was not successful like that of the automotive. One disadvantage of the steam locomotives was the fact that it added significant weight to the vehicles that made the same unsuitable to be employed on road transport. Generally, historical studies accredit Nicholas Cognut for the invention of the automobile.

The automobiles that were powered by steam engines prompted the invention and development of the electric engines that further improved the mode of transport as well as its relative speed. These were invented between 1832 and 1839 by Robert Anderson (Berger, 67). These were powered by rechargeable batteries and likewise, they were cumbersome to use because of the need for frequent recharging. It is indicated that despite being an important invention in this regard, the electric cars were limited by their low speed, increased weight and by the fact that they were very expensive. Seemingly, they could only be effectively employed in areas where the supply of electricity was constant. This was undesirable because then a very low percentage of the population had unlimited access to consistent electric power.

The other engine whose development was of great importance during this particular period was the combustion engine. Koshar defines an internal combustion engine as one that employs the explosive combustion of a particular type of fuel in pushing the piston that is found within the respective engine (143). This has a push effect on the crankshaft that then makes the wheels of the automobile to turn. This requires the use of different types of fuels that range from kerosene to diesel and gasoline. In his review, Chaney indicates that use of this particular engine during the early periods of the invention of the automobile was greatly limited by the lack of viable fuels (6). In particular, it is indicated that the liquid fuels were very scarce. As such, respective persons improvised the gas mixtures to run the automobiles. The experiments that employed gases began operating in 1806 and the main gases used were a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen.

From the preceding analysis, it can be noted that the early efforts towards developing an effective auto mobile was hampered by various factors. Indeed, the heavyweight of the steam engine made them unsuitable for the roads that were employed for transport during that particular time. In addition, both the steam and electric engines were cumbersome to use because they required a constant recharge. Thus an individual could not travel for more than twenty minutes before stopping to recharge the engine. Notably, the internal combustion engine offered a viable option in this regard as it was less tiresome to use. Nonetheless, this was also limited by lack of liquid fusels that were to be employed in providing the power. At this juncture, it can be ascertained that the use of gases in providing fuel provided a viable approach to addressing the inherent problems.

Mass production of vehicles began in the 1900s in the United States and France. Holt indicates that Panhard et Levassor in France was the first company to engage in production of vehicles on a large scale basis (63). It also made various inventions and is credited for introducing the four-cylinder engines. Peugeot Company was the second to engage in mass production of vehicles in the year 1902. It is ascertained that mass production of vehicles in Western Europe at this particular time was increasingly taking root and a total of 30204 vehicles were produced in 1903 alone (Eckermann 12). This represented almost half of the vehicles that were produced on a global scale in that particular year. Duryea Motor Wagon company in the United State was established in the year 1893 and is posited to have been the first automobile manufacturing company in the United States. It assumed mass production in the year 1902. Other manufacturing companies such as Ford, Winton, and Cadillac in the United States also started mass production operations during the early 1900s and produced thousands of cars on an annual basis.

The increasing number of manufactures in this field of specification triggered competition that led to the employment of an assortment of technologies. These enhanced the quality of cars that were being produced during this time. The most commonly employed engines were the steam, petrol or gasoline and the electricity engines. However, Corbett ascertains that the gasoline or electric powered engines dominated the market as they were relatively easier to use than the former (82).

The in the production of automobiles had various implications on different economic sectors. In particular, it is cited that this boosted the production of gasoline and petroleum that was employed in powering the same. Furthermore, Leous notes that this led to the emergence of relative technologies that were employed in replacement of kerosene and coal. Other products such as lubricants were also invented and mineral oil replaced the vegetable oils that were employed previously. Various engines were invented and discarded accordingly in a bit to come up with a viable engine that would cater for the emergent needs of the population. The social sphere was also affected by the manufacture of these cars. In this respect, Cornely ascertains that music systems were fitted in the cars and this made it possible for the users to be entertained when driving (73). In addition, it is worth acknowledging that there were no standard controls with regard to manufacturing and therefore manufactures adopted different types of designs during the construction of the bodies of the vehicles.

The automobiles during this time were valued in terms of novelty rather than in their functional terms. In other words, they were considered a tool for prestige and not a functional tool that could be employed to carryout different functions. This was contributed to by various factors that ranged from frequent breakdowns to limited access to sufficient amounts of fuels to run the engines and lack of suitable roads to be employed in transport. Thus regardless of the increased production as well as invention of cars between 1900 and 1920, they were worthless and did not help the populations in any way.

The period between 1900 and 1930 was also commonly referred to as the brass period because of the fact that brass metal was commonly employed in manufacture of the automobiles. The First World War is cited to have had significant effects on the sales of the automobiles too. During this period, it is also indicated that he designs of the cars and the testing of the engines underwent dynamic changes. In particular, the licensing of Panhard et Levassor company led to the standardization of the structure and design of the automobiles. This was characterized by combustion engines, front engines, and sliding gear transmission. It culminated in the abandonment of conventional couch styled vehicles that had been employed in the past. Because the relative bodies were less expensive, they reduced the prices of the vehicles and increased sales. According to Halberstam, the various rapid automotive inventions were pursued during this particular period of time (32).

After the end of the First World War, there were different developments in this regard too. To begin with, Holt asserts that the front engine automobiles were commonly employed and therefore dominated the market. There was the introduction of standard norms that were employed in the structure and manufacture of the cars. In particular, it is indicated that cars during this time were expected to have closed bodies as opposed to open ones. There were inherent improvements in the combustion engine that culminated in the development of the renowned overhead camshaft as well as the multi-valve engines. The invention of important parts of the vehicles such as the hydraulic brakes also took place during this particular time and improved the quality of services rendered by the same significantly. Other inventions in this respect included the automatic transmission that was comprised of the lock-up clutch, planetary gearbox, and other important features. In 1940, tempered glass was invented and employed in the manufacture of vehicles in France. It should be appreciated that this feature was very important and it is still employed in the manufacture of vehicles to date.

In his consultative research, Berger indicated that the great depression that began in 1930 also initiated certain changes in the car industry. In particular, the integrated fenders as well as fully closed bodies on vehicles dominated the market and were preferred by the then population. Other features such as the running boards, wings, and headlights were incorporated in the designs and the previous phaetons, runabouts and the popular touring cars were gradually phased out. It is contended that during this era, most of the modern attributes of the different types of cars were invented and even previous inventions such as the front wheel reintroduced. Holt asserts that the relative developments were imperative because they marked an era of increased maturity as varied and multiple features were consolidated to come up with an ideal model (73).

The cars underwent significant Changes. Adapted from: Holts The Influence of the Automobile on Europe, p. 112.

Further developments were experienced during the post war period as different features were incorporated to come up with an end product of the highest degree of quality. Developments such as the introduction of the compression V8 engines can be posited to have improved the quality of the vehicles significantly. In addition, it is indicated that it is during this period that modern bodies were introduced in the market. With regard to the speed of the cars, Glancey affirms that the speed of vehicles increased during this period and the designs came in different colors that were in line with the consumer preferences (54). The concept of luxury was redefined and mainstreamed in the manufacture of the vehicles too.

It is ascertained that competition was an inherent feature of the then market and that it led to the improvement of quality. The United States is cited to have been at the fore front of producing high quality products that superseded those provided by other nations. Moreover, the then emergent economies also participated actively in auto manufacturing and assumed an elevated niche in this regard. Amalgamated manufacturing companies consolidated the market and hence derived huge profits from the sale of the cars. Of great reference is the fact that marketing was adopted by various manufacturing companies and was effective in significantly improving the sales of the same. This new approach was geared towards informing the public about the available auto products and persuading the same to make purchases accordingly.

The era of the oil crisis in the 1970s had adverse effects on this trend as it significantly reduced the sales. Koshar argues that the worst hit nation was the United States as it entirely depended on the Middle East for its sources of oil as well as the relative products (146). Coupled with the emergent emission regulations, the oil crisis is blamed for stagnating the innovation and invention of auto-machine in the United States. The consumer preferences also shifted and consumers increasingly preferred the small performance cars that were manufactured by companies such as Toyota, Nissan, and BMW. This disadvantaged the big engine products from Italy and America and impacted negatively on their performance in the market. Further, Wollen and Kerr affirmed that there was also a shift in the use of fuel as preferences shifted to employment of fuel injection, independent suspensions and an increased focus on the design of the vehicle and safety of the users.

The modern era has also incorporated various changes in the design of the auto industry. Essentially, this comprises the period between 1985 to date. In his research, Holt asserts that the technical aspects and design of the products has particularly been affected by the inherent changes (98). It is indicated that emphasis is increasingly being placed on concepts of plat form sharing, initiation, and enforcement of standardization and controls and finally, incorporating computer aided design in the manufacturing of the cars. Advances in this respect range from the employment of the diesel engine, all-wheel drive to the use of front wheel drive. It is worth acknowledging these designs were initiated in the 1960s but have gained prominence in the modern times. Other developments in this regard pertain to significant changes in the shapes of the bodies and the incorporation of the elements of luxury in the design of the cars.

Furthermore, various forces such as the need to enhance environmental conservation and the depletion of the natural resource base have directed the focus towards the need to increase fuel efficiency. In this regard, it should be appreciated that such aspects as environmental conservation are very important because of the fact that they influence the attitudes and purchasing power of the consumers. Generally, it can be contended that the efficiency of the engines and the enhancement of the models of the cars has greatly been improved by the modern developments.

From the preceding analysis, it is certain that the historical development of cars has undergone various changes since the initiation of the concept of the engine in 1869. These have been influenced by the changes in consumer preferences and the invention and innovation of relative technology. During early times, it is certain that cars were used as tools for novelty. This changed during the middle ages as they became more functional. Currently, luxury is an intrinsic aspect that is greatly emphasized on during the modern times.

History of European Car Makers

The manufacturing of cars in Europe dates back to historical times and as it has come out from the preceding study, Western Europe has been cited to have pioneered the development of mass production of the cars. There are various car manufacturing companies in Europe to date. These specialize in different designs that address different consumer preferences. It is also notable that these designs have undergone various changes overtime in order to effectively address the changing needs of the consumers. Examples of these companies include BMW, Volvo, Ferrari, Peugeot, Mercedes Benz, Jeep, Hyundai, Land-rover, Porsche and many more.

Also referred to as Bavarian Motor Works, BMW was founded in 1916 by Franz Josef. It is physically located in Germany and it deals with the manufacture of automobiles, motorcycles, and bicycles. Holt asserts that this is popular for its tendency to ensure high performance and incorporate the important concept of luxury in the same. It has established its operations in five main countries and serves a population of close to 1,439,918 persons per year. Its subsidiaries are found in Austria, United Kingdom, USA, and South Africa.


Logo, BMW from

Volvo, on the other hand, specializes in commercial vehicles and it was founded in 1927. Other products that it provides on the market include construction equipment, aerospace components, industrial power systems, marine systems, and financial services. It serves a global population and its headquarters are situated in Sweden. In development of cars, it lays great emphasis on the ability to withstand extreme weather as well as rough roads and terrain. It is a company that has undergone a series of changes through time with the most profound being the division of the company with Ford.

Volvo Logo, Adapted from:

Peugeot is a French-based company that is considered the second largest auto manufacturing company in the entire Europe. It was initially founded in 1810 under the status of a coffee meal but different developments saw it assume the status of a separate company in the year 1926. Its physical location is in France and it specializes in auto manufacture as well as the manufacture of trucks, bicycles, and motorcycles. Over time, it has developed different models that reflect different consumer preferences. It serves the global population and it is certain that it derives immense profits from the same.

Peugeot Emblem, Adapted from,

The Mercedes Benz Company is also very prominent in auto manufacturing and it specializes in cars, vans, trucks, buses and luxury cars. It lays great emphasis on the end product and ensures that this is of very high quality. It is indicated that this has enabled it to be considered one of the top manufactures around the globe. It was initiated by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in the 1880s. Its physical location is in Germany and its serves a global population.

The Mercedes-Benz SLR, Adapted From: www. Mercedes-Benz History.htm


The need to enhance mobility can be considered to be a major driving force behind the initiation and manufacture of the automobiles. This concept is ingrained in the conventional need to enhance the transportation of goods as well as products. As it has come out from the study, it can not be disputed that the auto industry has undergone various developments through time. The early invention of the steam engine formed the basement upon which the development of the auto industry was based. Currently, various companies have emerged and play a leading role in enhancing the quality of relative services by addressing the specific needs of the populations. This is achieved through the adoption of designs that are in line with the interests and preferences of the customers. It is in this consideration that this paper concludes by ascertaining that the auto industry has had a significant effect on the holistic welfare of humans.

Works Cited

David, Corbett. The History of Cars. USA: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2005.

David, Halberstam. The Reckoning. USA :Morrow, 1986.

Erik Eckermann.  History of Automobiles. SAE Press (2001): p. 11-4.

Erinn, Banting. Inventing the Automobile. USA: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2006.

Gottlieb, Daimler & Karl Benz. Automobile. Retrieved, 8th March, 2010 from

Gus, Leous. History of Automobiles. Retrieved, 8th March, 2010 from:

Jonathan, Glancey. A History of Automobile. USA: Carlton Publishing, 2008.

Kay Holt. The Influence of the Automobile on Europe. New York: Crown Publishers, 1997.

Michael, Berger. Automobile Industry in America. USA: Greenwood Publishing, 2001.

Peter, Wollen & Joe Kerr. (eds). Cars and Culture. London: Reaktion, 2002.

Raymond, Chaney. Racetrack to Highways. The Journal of San Diego History, 2 (1971): 3-17.

Rob, Rooke. A brief History of the Automobile. Retrieved, 8th March, 2010 from

Robyn, Cornely. The Automobile. USA: Children’s Press, 2005.

Rudy, Koshar. History of Automobile in Everyday Life. Contemporary European History, 10 (2001): 142-55.






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