After the gas crisis of the 70s, cars started to change drastically. Not only did cars change, but what society expected of them changed, too, from increased safety standards to decreased environmental impacts. Exploration of non-petroleum based fuels has boomed in a way not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
In our previous installments of the History of Cars, we’ve covered the change of vehicles as the internal combustion engine rose to power and the industrial revolution spawned the vehicle we know today. The consecutive World Wars impacted vehicle design and the post-war era were filled with more and more horsepower. Then the oil crisis hit and things began to change fast.
One of the first things to change in vehicles wasn’t their efficiency, but their size.
Small sized, big impact
As big, American-made vehicles were discarded for their smaller and more efficient Asian-made competition there was a huge shift in the way vehicles were designed. Manufacturers in Japan and Korea created vehicles that were sized for the smaller streets. These lighter weight vehicles didn’t need larger engines, instead small four-cylinder engines ushered in an era of high miles-per-gallon (mpg).
It wasn’t too soon thereafter that American brands had their own small cars, such as the legendary Geo Metro. However, these light-weight vehicles weren’t very safe and they often folded like a tin can during minor impacts.
That didn’t mean that these vehicles didn’t leave an indelible mark on society. Their small stature is still mirrored in vehicles manufactured today and led to an era of increased fuel efficiency. Even though vehicles have gotten heavier for safety standards, they have gotten more eco-friendly to accommodate the larger girth.
Safety is Key
Seatbelts, airbags, and even driver assistive technologies come out of a demand for fewer vehicle occupant injuries and deaths. This has, sadly, made the vehicles we use grow and grow in size until they barely resemble the dimensions of their former selves.
One of the big selling points of performance-based vehicles is weight reduction. Even though people tend to be more gas pedal heavy, the loss of weight in the vehicle will often give them better mpg (when not driven radically). A reduction of vehicle weight also makes vehicles more agile and easier to handle.
Of course, with the mandate for more safety technology in vehicles the weight is bound to keep increasing. Sensors, video cameras, semi-autonomous systems, and other driver aids add weight from all the added equipment. However, driver and passenger deaths and injuries are down.
Many items that used to be mechanical are now electrically-powered, such as steering columns, braking systems, and more.
Electrification of Vehicles
It didn’t start out with the idea of electrically fueled vehicles, but the desire to put more electronics inside vehicles. The move from analog to digital technologies started a wave of increased in-car technologies that has only increased in pace.
Radios first started appearing in cars in the late 1930s, but it wasn’t until the modern era that stereos have had such an impact on car purchasing. Since then, radios have been standard and often included 8-Track, cassette, CD, or MP3 players.
Infotainment systems are major selling points now with many hosting the ability to stream media from your Bluetooth-connected phone to your vehicle’s stereo system. Some can connect to the internet on their own, have in-car navigation systems, or even play DVDs and other movie media!
Of course, the latest means of electrification comes by way of electric vehicles (EVs) that are powered partially or completely off of battery-stored power.
Exploration of Energy Sources
While electric vehicles are dominating the alternative fuel source market, there are other non-fossil fuel energy sources.
One of the major kinds is called Hydrogen Fuel Cell. It oxygenates compressed hydrogen fuel creating water and electrical current to power a vehicle.
There’s also compressed natural gas (CNG), a popular in heavy machinery, such as forklifts, buses, or commercial vehicles.
Propane can also be used in vehicles, however, not in the consumer section.
Many vehicles are utilizing hybrid technologies which pair internal combustion engines with battery packs, either as a plug-in battery, an engine-charged EV battery, or a truly hybrid system where both batteries and engine drive the vehicle.
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In modern times, vehicles have lost weight and gained eco-efficiency, lost that eco-efficiency due to safety standards, and tossed gas out the window in favor of alternative sources of energy that don’t negatively impact the environment. Then came the era of technology and that ushered its own race for the top.
To test drive a modern vehicle that is safe, eco-friendly, and filled with technology, please visit your local AutoNation store!