Automobiles Development and History

Would like to start a new topic. However my interest is in history of the development of the automobile. The automobile industry is in a massive change. See early history of the changes in the motor and chassis and why these happened as a topic we can learn from in future. This includes topics like distribution and sales. The auto companies tried to take over the dealerships. Tesla sales and distribution is an hot topic for dealers. Also unions is another hot topic. Believe there are wrongs on both sides, union and management. The Detroit News (newspaper) has covered the union for many years. The Detroit Free Press (newspaper) has covered more of the management side. Currently the Free Press is widely available digitally. The Detroit News has very limited digital availability. Is there a way to clearly define this Topic and limit discussions to the technical developments of the automobile and leave out the politics. Need a clear definition for automobile as a topic

I’m a petrolhead, I’ll bite.

Here’s how I see it:
The advancement of the automobile is really the story of our ability to store and transfer energy. The goal is to transform potential energy (i.e unburned petroleum, or a charged battery) into kinetic energy (turning the wheels of a car) at a scale we can carry around with us. I suppose we could talk about safety and convenience features, but they’re ancillary to the primary goal which is to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

There were a few popular competing methods for this at the beginning of the 20th century.

The external combustion engine, or steam power. Internally contained fluid (water) is heated by an external source, combustion. The fluid expands due to heat from the combustion and that expansion causes machinery to move. There’s our kinetic energy. Jay Leno has a couple great videos demonstrating early external combustion cars on his YouTube channel. Very interesting technology.

Electric cars! They were huge around the turn of the century. The Dept of Energy says electric cars accounted for 1/3rd of all vehicles at the time. Much like today, an electric charge was stored in a chemical battery and used by an electric motor which releases that potential energy against the car’s wheels. Kinetic energy.

The internal combustion engine, or ICE. Very much as we know it today, fossil fuel is sparked within an internal chamber, causing the chamber to expand, which in turn moves machinery to propel a car’s wheels. The potential energy of our fossil fuel is transferred into the kinetic energy of the wheel being turned.

The fossil fuel powered ICE turned out to be the most economically feasible. Oil was readily available, and inventions like the electric starter rendered most of the advantages of the electric car moot. I mentioned “efficiency” above, I’m talking about overall efficiency, how much effort overall it takes to get to where you’re going, not what sort of miles per gallon you can get that we consider today. It made the most sense for an average person to purchase an ICE at the time. Electricity was not as readily available as gasoline, and as I mentioned, ECE methods had their own comparative drawbacks. Petroleum had one of the highest energy density of any liquid that was easily transportable. It still does today.

Over the next 100 years we refined the ICE with advanced manufacturing techniques, but not too much on the chemical science side. Getting back to my original point of energy storage/transfer, we managed to extract more and more of the potential energy within gasoline. Today typical ICE’s can extract as much as 20% of the total stored energy in a given amount of gasoline. At the very top end, state of the art, you have today’s Formula 1 race engines that can extract around 40%. The rest of it is lost in the transfer, mostly heat escaping away. Regardless of the environmental impact, that hurts the engineer in me! So much waste.

So whoever cracks the energy storage problem, their technology will probably be “under the hood” of your next car. Chemical batteries are a stopgap until that problem is solved.

/my 2¢

1 Like

Wow that is a full 100 cents worth. Well said. Maybe I was hoping ti add people to the mix. Am probably in the wrong place. Thinking…

You helped me see the 2 issues that brought this on. I have been trying to put together a Find a Grave memorial for a man and his family. Marion Mallory. He developed an ignition system. He and Henry Ford worked together. Mallory Ignition systems. My family knew him. For a number of years I have to find more about him. One short video said at one time he rivaled Edison for number of patents. Yet very difficult to locate any info online.
This brings me to another related issue.
The Detroit MI newspapers (as many newspapers) were politacally aligned. We are currently digitizing. Many records and newspapers. Ancestry has come up with using newspapers as sources as the privacy issues have made vital records difficult to access. The Free Press was always backing management. The Detroit New was considered the union workers view. The Detroit News has the history of the labor movement and is archived in Detroit.
The Free Press archive is digitally available thru However The Detroit News is very difficult to access.
When history looks at the automobile industry they will see online only the management view. This is another way history is written by the victors. We see only what is online. Currently we see only what has money behind it. The Labor history is not available because it is not visible online.
Our history is still being written by victors. Is there any effort to equalize both sides?