Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Motor Vehicles USA


This paper will look at the historic life-cycle of motor vehicle technology in America and is divided into two parts. The first part is the Qualitative section of the paper which is subdivided into three sections based on the cycle phases of birth, growth, and maturity. Within these topics, the history of motor vehicles in America will be presented along with how the technology has progressed over the years. Important issues like policies and market development will also be discussed. In the second part of the paper, the Quantitative section, data on the total number of registered vehicles sourced from the Bureau of Transport Statistics will be analysed by comparing it with an S-curve to identify the periods of birth, growth and maturity to corroborate what was presented in the qualitative section of the paper.

Qualitative AnalysisEdit


The invention of the motor vehicle cannot be claimed by one individual but rather it builds upon works done by many individuals over the century. Early motor vehicles were steam powered and the first one built that was capable of transporting people was in 1769 innovated by a man called Nicholas Joseph Cugnot (Eckermann , 2001). In 1808, the first motor vehicle possessing an internal combustion engine was developed by Francoies Isaac de Rivaz. Siegfried Marcus in 1870 innovated a gasoline powered combustion engine installed on a cart. He went on further to improve the technology and eventually added brakes, clutch and a steering to his design. The modern day four-stroke petrol engine follows on from such previous innovations. At the start of the 20th century, a majority of the American automobiles were running on steam followed by electric and then gasoline. The electric car however, did start to gain more popularity as it required less maintenance and was more hassle-free (didn’t require a heavy hand crank starter) to drive than that of earlier steam or gasoline vehicles. In fact, the first motor vehicle to exceed 60 mph was an electric car called Camille Jenatzy’s La Jamais Contente. However, the rise in popularity was quickly diminished by a lack of battery charging infrastructure along with certain limitations of its characteristics such as low speed, long charging periods which meant the vehicle could only be used for short distances. Other notable innovators still worked on developing the gasoline engines believing in its high energy capacity and people like Karl Benz dedicated his work to developing gasoline powered engines to run vehicles and did sell them to affluent buyers. Up until this point owning a motor vehicle was a luxury that only the very rich and wealthy could afford. This changed when Henry Ford started the automobile revolution; vehicles were built cheaper and were easier to maintain.


By mid 1920s large scale production of automobiles started and it became a commodity that was not only accessible by the elites but by many others from the lower sections of society. Other companies in Europe also began to emerge in the 1920s, notable ones such as Austin, Singer, Fiat, Morris, Citroen. As the market expanded newer models were developed that further propagated the market such as the introduction of small and less bulky automobiles that appealed to the consumers. Between the 1920s to 30s there were large technological advancements made within the motor vehicle industry: four-wheel brakes using hydraulic; accessories like hearts and radios; smoother gearbox. The six cylinder engine offered more power and better efficiency and so it replaced the four cylinder and was adopted by all manufacturing companies. As the market grew, companies also began accommodating to the tastes and preferences of consumers so they started also making luxury cars. American vehicles continued to dominate the international market but following post world war, there was a shift in the trend with European cars were offering cheaper alternatives. As many economies around the world suffered, the America also started importing foreign vehicles. Prior to the introduction of motor vehicles into the market, steam powered trains were the main mode of transport that the American economy was dependent upon. The mode was in its mature stage and the turnpike roads that were previously shut down after the advent of rail now began to open up for the use of motor vehicles. Motor vehicles offered the advantages of not being restricted to rail lines and therefore were more versatile in travel. It could take you directly to your destination so long as the terrain was smooth enough to drive on. Railway unfortunately could only go to and from predetermined stations. The US federal government soon realised the need for construction of highways after the motor vehicles began to proliferate around the nation. Further technological developments kept taking place and when the V8 engine entered the market so did motorsports which by the mid 1950s became the highest spectator viewed sport in America. It could be seen that by around this time, motor vehicles were not only widely available as a means of transport but began people began seeing them as items of hobby and leisure.

As the number of roads began to increase, legislation was passed to serve as the framework of road planning. Many acts were passed to improve and maintain road quality. With more vehicles on the road, the federal government introduced laws to protect drivers and pedestrians. An example of such would be vehicles having to travel at or under a certain speed in different areas and government bodies were formed such as traffic police that were there to regulate the flow of traffic. Just like in previous modes like the railway, as soon as it became popular, it was of national concern and the government intervenes to nationalise the service and establish regulatory bodies.


Further technological advancements saw the return of electric vehicles as well. Toyota in 1997 introduced a hybrid that used an electric motor in combination with gasoline. As this provided another fuel alternative, the American government also began to offer subsidies for the purchase of such hybrid vehicles. Hybrid cars soon became popular as they overcame the problems that were associated with electric cars and offered better fuel economy. With growing environmental concerns over the use of large scale use of fossil fuels governments around the world began to encourage vehicles running on “cleaner” fuel. For example gasoline mixed with ethanol was introduced as cleaner alternatives and vehicles these days have to undergo stringent emissions tests to be approved. People have become more aware and concerned and have also opted to choose such type of vehicles. We notice that in the last 20 years motor vehicles have more or less reached their mature stage as a transport mode and in order to maintain the market, manufacturing companies have developed more sophisticated motor vehicles to cater to customers buying preferences and also environmental concerns are playing a very important role in their design.


Number of Registered Motor Vehicles (1960-2016)
The line in red is the graph of the model and the one in blue is from the data

The following data sourced from the Bureau of Transport Statistics was used in the study and a three-parameter logistic function of the form :


Is used to model the life cycle of motor vehicles using the data obtained from Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Where:

  • S(t) = number of registered vehicles
  • t is time in years
  • to = 0.5K
  • K is the saturation status level or on the graph it would be where it smooths out (where there are less changes in the dependent variable when the independent variable changes)
  • b is a coefficient.

Based on the graph of the data, K is estimated to be 268799083; t_o=0.5K=134399542 ; b assumed to be 1. Based on that we have the following equation:


Analysis of ResultsEdit

After graphing the model and the data we find that R2=0.99, which is a fairly good approximate. The line in red represents the graph of the model and the one in blue is from the data. Since the starting point for the data is 1960, the representation here occurs after the birthing stage so the graph doesn't show it. History of motor vehicles suggest the birthing stage from the early 1900s till the two great world wars. From 1960 onwards represents post war eras and is seen as the growing stage up until the 1990s and the graph then is seen to not increase as much. Perhaps from this point onwards could maybe represent the maturing stage.


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Eckermann, E. and Albrecht, P. (2001). World History of The Automobile. Warrendale, Pa.: SAE International.

Garrison, W. and Levinson, D. (2006). The Transportation Experience Policy, Planning, and Deployment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, p.86.

Parissien, S. (2014). The life of the automobile. 1st ed. Thomas Dunne Books; First U.S. Edition, First Printing edition, pp.260-340.