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Cars have changed the world: how we travel, how we work and how we build our cities. Since the very first vehicle hit the roads there have been many iconic moments of creativity and innovation - in power, design and technology - that have changed driving forever.
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It seems difficult to imagine today, in a world fundamentally changed by the internal combustion engine, that there was any true alternative to petrol power at the beginning of the automotive industry.

But in 1900
40% of cars in the US were powered by steam
38% by electricity
22% by fuel

Eventually, the benefits of range and the impact of mass production on prices saw petrol cars dominate the market - but consider how very different the world would look today if electric cars had become the norm. It would be another 100 years before electric and hybrid vehicles made a significant return to our roads.

There were 30,000 electric cars on the road at the turn of the century.
$1,000 ($26,248 in today's money)
Only 25 were ever built!

Business may have been booming for many of the early manufacturers, but motoring was almost exclusively a rich man’s game. This new technology was stretching its legs and exploring the world - with long distance and cross-continental races becoming a new form of popular entertainment for the masses and extravagant distraction for the few rich enough to compete. The first ever Indianapolis 500, which remains a highlight of the global racing calendar, took place in 1911.

In 1905,
the Peking-Paris race broke records
a 9,000-mile endurance test across two continents
finally won by Prince Scipione Borghese

- a whole 3 weeks ahead of the runner-up.

General Motors is founded in the US.
The First Le Mans 24 hour Race
$825 (or £13,774 in today's money!)
Over 15 million were sold!

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and the getaway drivers of the Prohibition era in the USA were unlikely early motoring innovators. They needed vehicles that were fast and small enough to evade the police, but strong and well-balanced to ensure their cargo of illicit wares was secure.

As such, they modified their vehicles for optimum performance and soon stock car racing, the precursor to modern NASCAR, was born.

Simultaneously, between 1927 and 1935, this new-found need-for-speed saw Daytona Beach witness the breaking of 8 consecutive land speed records.

The first car radio, which cost $130 US dollars - over £1,129!
Top Speed: 154mph
Just 710 were built!

Cars had been the sole preserve of the rich for decades. However, in the wake of World War Two, despite steel shortages and a fragile global economy, there was a desire for popular motoring to finally include everyone.

The Volkswagen Beetle originally developed in Germany during World War 2, achieved global fame as a vibrant symbol of a re-invented country.

Slowly, as economies across the world recovered, manufacturers would eventually welcome the benefits of the mass market. 1957 saw the arrival of the iconic Fiat 500, quickly followed by the Mini, an energetic symbol of post-war Britain, in 1959.

Arrival of the V16 engine
The First Carrera Pan Americana
£382 (£13,344 in today's money!)
Over 1.3 million sold

The boom of popular motoring meant many more cars on the road, and with that, a significant challenge to the safety of those driving.

Safety suddenly became of increasing importance. The first car with seatbelts as standard, the Saab GT 750, went on sale in 1958.

Stopping times were improved significantly by the creation of anti-lock and disc brakes. However, invention was moving faster than legislation. National and international standards of safety took decades to develop, despite the technology existing to protect drivers and their passengers.

Arrival of the 8 Track Music System
3-speed automatic transmission
Top Speed: 87mph
1.45 million sold

“Simplify, then add lightness”

The famous words of Lotus founder Colin Chapman have endured as essential design wisdom, even beyond the world of motor racing.

The 1960s and ‘70s was a golden age of speed - with British icons such as Jackie Stewart winning three Formula One world titles in just eight years.

But as the cars got lighter and the engines got bigger, racing became more and more dangerous - safety regulations remained lax, and in this decade alone, 14 Formula One drivers lost their lives on the track.

Rock on! Cassette Decks arrive
The creation of the Catalytic Converter
£2,097 (£33,076 in today's money!)
More than 70,000 sold

World events have often had a huge impact on the motor industry. The decrease in global oil production as a consequence of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 provoked fundamental changes to the cars we saw on our roads.

Fuel efficient cars imported from Asia appealed to consumers across Europe and the USA, superseding popular manufacturers and increasing global fuel economy as a result.

This reduced demand in key manufacturing hubs, such as Detroit in the US, whilst a decade of fuel shortages began to move public opinion towards the idea of efficiency and conservation.

Seatbelts had been around since
But only became a legal requirement in
£1,767 (£30,566 in today's money!)
More than 820,000 sold

As engine technology improved, higher levels of performance were available to larger numbers of people. The ‘Hot Hatch’ offered high performance combined with everyday practicality to a keen global audience of wannabe racers.

Design classics such as the Peugeot 205 GTI were quick and energetic motors - their nifty capacity for putting their power on the road was helped by the arrival of fuel injection technology, which improved the smoothness and efficiency of throttle response.

The rise of the Hot Hatch has often been blamed for killing off the British sports car industry - most notably by the Top Gear team.

The first SatNavs start to appear.
Ayrton Senna dies after accident at San Marino Grand Prix.
£24,800 (£47,560 in today's money!)
Over 6.3 million sold

With the rise of the internet and the ever-quickening progress of personal technology, it was only a matter of time before cars took their place in the digital revolution. Many of the most popular innovations were around safety rather than performance.

In the late 1990s, brands such as Toyota, Mercedes, Jaguar and Nissan raced to be the first to popularise either laser or radar-based adaptive cruise control systems.

In 2003, the Toyota Prius became the first car to offer a computerised Intelligent Parking Assist - technology that has now become an expected safety aid in many markets across the world.

The White Stig arrives on the BBC's Top Gear.
Hybrid Cars arrive - producing only 50% of the emissions of traditional vehicles.
£12,712 (£21,320 in today's money!)
Over 5 million sold

With every leap forward in technology comes a unique new set of concerns. Electric cars may offer a greener and quieter alternative, but the worry of range anxiety - the fear of your car running out of power and leaving you stranded - has become a barrier to the wider spread of the technology.

Excitingly, electric car manufacturer Tesla announced earlier this year that a simple software upgrade could eradicate range anxiety - allowing their cars to communicate with the nearest charging points in real-time, to prevent any car ever going out of range.
Michael Schumacher wins a record 91st Formula One race.
A 56% rise in the number of alternatively fuelled vehicles sold.
£30,990 (£35,932 in today's money!)
Over 180,000 sold
Driverless cars are commonly believed to be the long-term alternative to traditional road transport. Google, supported by leading car brands, have led much of the research stateside, whilst in the UK, two LUTZ (Low-carbon Urban Transport Zone) projects have been established in Milton Keynes and Greenwich, with two-seater autonomous vehicles being assessed for wider use.

By 2030, it is believed the technology will be ready for everyday use nationwide - making journey times faster and transforming the nature of driving. But with even avoided accidents being reported in the press as significant setbacks, how long will it take the public to trust taking their hands off the wheel?
By 2030, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities and urban areas - they won’t all be able to hit the road at the same time. Cities will have to change to allow everyone to move freely and easily as populations boom. Charging points for electric cars will need to become commonplace, whilst investment in public transport and travel infrastructure will also need to increase, to accommodate more journeys and even self-driving cars. How long will this transformation take? Tesla founder Elon Musk believes it will take twenty years for driverless cars to become the norm - by which time, our towns and cities must be ready for change.
Smart technology is moving fast - and it’ll soon make driving even simpler. Ford want to encourage the use of smartphone apps and smart watches to find parking spaces and coordinate fuel-saving rideshare opportunities. Apps such as CarPlay and Android Auto will allow wireless interaction between your car and your phone, and are predicted to become widely popular, as in-car technology becomes increasingly advanced. Other exciting advances, such as biometric entry technology and active health monitoring, may be a little further down the road.
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