Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/The Life-Cycle of the Automobile

The AutomobileEdit

Photo of Today's Automobile (Genesis G90)[1]

An automobile can be described as a motorized vehicle which commonly consists of four wheels and is propelled forward/back by an internal engine. The purpose of the automobile is to transport people or items from one location to another.[2]

In today’s society, roads are generally operated by motor vehicles. The motor is generally powered by an internal combustion engine which is fuelled by fossil fuels in the forms of petrol and diesel. The engine burns the fuel and converts the energy produced into mechanical energy to propel a motor vehicle. During this process, the release of carbon and hydrogen molecules react to produce high amounts of energy and heat[3]. Although it is the most effective way to produce suitable amounts of energy for the motor vehicle. Over the years where motor vehicles have increased in use, the emission of air pollution has had significant impacts to the climate and is the main reason for global warming. Alternative methods to power motor vehicles to help mitigate this issue such as electric powered cars and more commonly, hybrid cars.[4]

The technological characteristics of an automobile have been developed to meet the needs of user’s overtime. To create a vehicle which is able to navigate to various destinations at relative speeds, to provide comfort and safety for the user. A motor vehicle can be either controlled by manual transmission or automatic transmission. Some of the basic functions of a motor vehicle include;

  • A system which enables you to propel forwards and reverse back (accelerate/decelerate),
  • Braking/Parking
  • Steering Wheel
  • Safety functions such as window wipers, seatbelt, brake/hazard lights and indicators

Some more complex characteristics of an automobile includes air conditioning system, entertainment system and GPS functions. These have developed overtime to meet the needs of the users

The automobile is the most dominant transportation technology in the world today. More than 90 percent of the Australian population lives in a household with access to car. The roads are also accompanied by other forms of motor vehicles which include buses, trucks and motor cycles.

Main Advantages of Automobile:

  • Comfort
  • Convenience
  • Rapid service
  • Greater speed
  • Can be used as a feeder to other transport modes i.e. rail
  • Suitable for short distance

Prior To The Advent Of The AutomobileEdit

Other technologies which were available prior to the automobile included boats, steam train, electric cars transport and also other land transport methods such as horses.

Canals and BoatsEdit

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, canals were used as a vital mode of transport throughout Britain. Transport of goods by land transport were generally done via horse. Water transport could carry bulk goods at significantly lower unit cost than land transport which was four times more expensive during this period. Majority of the settlement were made around the river banks throughout England, therefore the use of boats through canals were at the time, the easiest means of transportation of goods.[5]

The canals did not offer much technological breakthrough in transport with it being such a simple system. Most of the know-how of canal construction such as lock and sluice came from experiences from improving rivers and taking ideas from the toll roads. The canals were created within a regional context due to the nature of the built environment and how the speeds produced from the boats were relatively slow, therefore only helped increase trade through regional levels rather than national.[5]

Although canals had their limitations they also provided experiences that would be beneficial for future modes to come. “They offered a new generation of entrepreneurs and engineers experience in the organisation of men and money”. Also, providing experience towards general policy for transportation and public works.[6]

Rail and Steam Trains (1800s)Edit

The birth of the railway played an important role for experiences throughout transportation. As the demand for coal grew so did the need for methods to transport it. Initially beginning with horse powered carts and were designed so that the horse could pull them. Richard Trevithick and George Stephenson helped develop the steam powered train which was a huge step for technology development.

The limitations with the early rail was that at a lot of the times, the train could not haul the large loads when going uphill. Another issue was how reliable were the locomotives, in terms of longevity and how regular maintenance was needed to keep the tracks and locomotive in good condition.[6]

The experiences from the steam train was that it saw development in technology by using building blocks and incorporate them into new designs. The steam engine had been available in other technologies such as the steam boat. Other influences were taken from it such as the common carriage format and construction know how.[6]

Invention of the AutomobileEdit

Richard Trevithick's Steamcar[7]

The invention of the automobile is usually credited to Henry Ford because of how he was able to create an automobile that was practical in use and popular to use. Before him, were other innovations and inventions which would help develop into the automobile we know today.

Steam CarsEdit

William Morrison's Electric Car (1893)[8]

During the early 1800s, the turnpike era, Richard Trevithick would develop a steam road carriage, taking ideas from the steam boat and steam trains which had been so successful. He would find that they would not be as successful due to the impacts they had to road providers and also to rail owners. The main issue was the damages it would have to road surfaces and as a result, the steam powered cars did not grow during this period of the early nineteenth century.[6]

Electric CarsEdit

Karl Benz' Model 3 Motorwagen[9]

Ideas to develop an electric car was brought to light during the mid and late 1800’s. In 1831, Robert Davidson had built a carriage which was powered by batteries and motor and also in 1893 William Morrison built an electric car to show case at the World’s Columbian Exposition. The cars were able to produce necessary performances on the roads but were found to be economically impractical due to the costs of generation, transmission and storage.[6]

Internal Combustion EngineEdit

Henry Ford's Model T[10]

Just like other transport technologies, the idea of internal combustion was around for years prior to the development of it to automobiles. In 1680, Christiaan Huygens designed but never built an internal combustion engine which was to be fuelled by gunpowder. It wasn’t until over a century later that someone had transferred these ideas to an automobile but in 1826, Samuel Brown modified a steam engine to be able to burn gasoline and connected it to a carriage. The idea worked but was one of many that did not gain mass spread. Finally, in 1886 Karl Benz built his three-wheeled motor car and there were some faults in the first design but he was able to fix these problems and showcased his ‘Model 3 Motorwagen’ at the World’s Fair in Paris. Although it was only able to go marginally faster than walking pace, the product was a huge step forward for transportation.[11]

Henry FordEdit

Henry Ford was mistakenly seen as the inventor of the automobile but he was the man who popularised it. The Fordism movement took place in 1908, which was the production of cheap goods coming of an assembly line. He had introduced the Model T car, which comprised of four cylinders, a semiautomatic transmission, flexible suspension, an electric magneto and was considered the most modern and sturdiest of cars at the time. The car did not have many features, for example it did not come with a speedometer, windscreen wiper or doors.[12]

Since the mass production of the model T automobile, there have been major developments. The success from Ford, ignited other companies to compete with him. The automobile influenced changes to the road and developed into greater networking systems to meet the needs of the automobile. Developments to the car, saw greater quality in design which promoted greater speeds, comfort and safety. The popularity of the automobile saw an obvious increase in numbers therefore more policies were introduced to control the order and safety for automobile users on the roads.

The history of the automobile has been important in the development for both technology and transportation and although Henry Ford was able to take it to a worldwide level, it is important that we acknowledge the inputs of other innovations and inventions of the course of history.

Early Market DevelopmentEdit

The early markets of the automobile were experienced when the railroads and steam locomotives were taking off (1830s). During this time, the main source of transport on roads was by horse or horse powered carriages. Richard Trevithick developed his steam road carriage but due to issues with the road providers and the popularity of rail, it didn’t last[6].

During the turnpike era, developments were made to the roads. A method called ‘the corvee’, where governments would tax people of their time to help build the roads. Countries such as England, France and Japan used this idea. The problem with the method is that it was hard to control people to a decent day’s work and to a standard which would be of high quality. In some cases, it helped but it didn’t provide the necessary strength and quality at which was desired. John McAdam was influential in the design of quality roads, where he had mentioned that the main destroyer of roads was poor drainage. To improve the drainage, he imposed a method to cover the adjacent ground firstly with large rocks, then smaller stones and to be finally bound by gravel. The method was enhanced by using bitumen to create, what is most commonly known as ‘tarmac’ (short for tarmacadam). As roads were changing, so were the introductions of more technology, such as the bicycle and the decreased use in horses. The bicycle has been seen as one of the main building blocks for the automobile. Taking ideas from the pneumatic tyres as well as the demand for good roads for cyclists saw a development to new road systems for cars.[6] The development of the road and technologies helped develop the market to improve the automobile to what is seen today.

As technologies started to develop, the three most dominant competing technologies at the time were steam, gasoline and electric. It was believed that each would find its own market niche; electric would be for ladies (short trips) and gasoline would be for longer distance trips.[6]

The beginning of Henry Ford’s model T design gained huge praise and popularity. The United States became a key market for the automotive industry, as Ford was able to introduce a system which incorporated speed, uniformity, simplicity and interchangeability and was able to implement it to his mass production of the automobile.[13] During World War 1, social and industrial changes put the automobile within buyers reach for middle class Americans. The creation of General Motors Acceptance Corporations in 1919 saw lowering of prices to the automobile which made it possible for those who did not earn as much such as labourers the opportunity to buy credit for cars.[14]

The Role of Policy (Birthing Phase)Edit

Understanding past experiences is important to the role of transport policy and there was no exception for the role of policy for the automobile. Keeping order on the roads was a necessity, so policies were implemented. It is believed to have been influenced by human physiology. “With most humans being right handed, it was easier for a horse rider to travel on the left side of the road. By doing so he could fend off attackers, as well as reaching to shake hands with friends.”[15] This was the case for British road users and the rest of the world began using the right-hand side because “freight wagon drivers found it easier to clear incoming wagons””[15]. In 1903, the United States began to use license plates as the number of vehicles on the road increased. In 1904 (UK), a license to drive was needed for when the term ‘reckless driving’ was introduced by the Motor Car Act. No driver’s test was needed to be completed, rather you would need to pay five shillings. In 1901, Connecticut passed the first US state law which regulated motor vehicles and set the speed limit to 19km/h near cities and 24km/h outside [16]. One of the reasons policies such as it being compulsory to wear a seatbelt were not implemented was because of these slow speeds. Experiences of the automobile were not yet created as well.”[15]

The Growth of The AutomobileEdit

The growth of the automobile took place post World War 2. The increase of car use was seen worldwide but the United States was leading the way, through their innovations and manufacturing of the ideal car at the time. America had developed new style of cars, which was able to introduce new markets. In the United States alone, car ownership had risen “from 45 million in 1949 to 119 million in 1972”[13]. During this period, the purchasing of an automobile was accessible to all and everyone wanted one. There was no care for the impacts that the cars emissions would have on the environment and prices for gasoline were relatively cheap. The car had developed from a practical technology into a work of art as new designs and different coloured cars began to spread. The performance of the automobile was also seeing increases, with speed and the introduction of power steering (easier to drive/handle). Safety was still a big issue, although seatbelts became more common during the 1950’s, there was no real promotion of safety incorporated with manufacturers designs of the automobile as they did not want buyers to think their product was deemed unsafe.[13]

Development of the Automobile (Mature Phase)Edit

The mature phase looks at how the automobile became the most dominant mode of transport and how experiences throughout the growth stage has developed new policies new markets and new designs.

With the increase in performance in design of cars and developments in construction of highways and roads, there was an increase in the death toll and by 1966 it was over 53000. As a result, the US Congress responded with the National Highway Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act (1966). It was a federal program to help address motor vehicle safety. Initially, the impacts were not positive as the death tolls continued to rise and by 1972, they had reached a high of 56,278. However, by 1992 the toll was at 40,000 for the first time since 1961.[17] This was one of the many implementations towards safety throughout the United States and is a significant issue to the transport and automobile infrastructure.

The environment has become a big issue, with the huge increase in use of automobile all over the world, the damages caused by carbon emissions are significant and has become an important issue to transport. An idea to help mitigate the effects is to use alternative energy such as the electric/hybrid car. Electric cars are not new and were one of the main sources for energy for the automobile during the birth phase (1880-1900). They were not a big success during that time and it wasn’t until the 2000s that the electric car would see a revival. The hybrid car combines the petrol/diesel engine with an electric motor, where it consumes less fuel and emits less carbon. It has been a huge success towards the mitigation of pollutants to the environment.

The market of the automobile has seen a huge number of different companies being built. The United States was seen as the front runner of all things automobile and that was the case until new innovations took place and other countries learned from the United States experiences. In 2009, China was reported to have exceeded the United States in vehicle sales, making it the largest vehicle market in the world.[18]

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

The data was collected from The Federal Highway Administration, which is an agency within the US department of transportation. The data itself looks at the number of motor vehicle registrations in the United States from the year 1900 to 1996.

The data was estimated into a three-parameter logistic function to create an S-curve which helps relate stages of the life cycle of the automobile i.e. birth, growth and maturity. The equation to find the estimate is:


To calculate the regression, use:


  • S(t) is the estimated Number of Automobile Registrations in USA
  • t is time (years)
  • t0 is Inflection time (1/2K)
  • K is Saturation Status Level
  • b is Coefficient

Finding K and b (constants)Edit

Firstly, use the largest value in the database and set a series value of K. For example, the first value used was slightly larger than the largest value of 133835.532 at 1988, so the first value for K in the series was 134000. From there the series of K would increase by 500 e.g. 134500 to 135000 etc.

K series

To find K, observe which K value from the series has the regression squared (RSQ) value. From the series it can be seen that K=135000 has the greatest RSQ value at 0.884361.

Highest RSQ

The calculated results can be observed in Table 1.

Table 1: The Results
Variable Value
t0 1958.58
K 135000
b 0.1099

Regression AnalysisEdit

The goodness of fit of the model can be represented by R-squared and is deemed accurate if its value is close to 1.0. The R-squared value from the data was 0.884, which shows that there are some differences with the actual data but is a result of the large length of time of almost a century of data was used. It can be said that the model is relatively accurate in that sense.

Regression Analysis Results

Calculated DataEdit

Now knowing all of the variables for the three-parameter logistic function, calculations of each estimate for each year can be observed on table 2.

Table 2: Number of Automobile Registrations in the USA (1900-1996)
Year Automobile Registrations


Predicted Automobile Registrations

(S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)])

1900 8 215
1904 54.59 333
1908 194.40 517
1912 901.596 801
1916 3367.889 1239
1920 8131.522 1914
1924 15436.102 2949
1928 21362.24 4523
1932 20901.401 6894
1936 24182.662 10409
1940 27465.826 15499
1944 25566.464 22627
1948 33355.25 32150
1952 43823.097 44108
1956 54210.901 58005
1960 61671.39 72775
1964 71994.795 87053
1968 83604.514 99647
1972 97082.06 109887
1976 110188.64 117677
1980 121600.843 123308
1984 128157.682 127229
1988 133835.532 129890
1992 126581.148 131663
1996 128386.775 132832

S-Curve Graph (Birth, Growth, Maturity)Edit

The life-cycle of the automobile through the S-curve:

  • Birth: 1900-1948
  • Growth: 1950-1988
  • Maturity: 1988-present

During the birth phase, from the actual data (red) there is a small growth from around 1920 to 1928. This period was right after World War 1 and Henry Ford began to make significant progress with his model T automobile. There was a stagnant period from 1928 to 1944 as this was during World War 2 and economically was a very tough time for everyone including the automobile industry. During this period was when huge developments were made and greater emphasis was put towards the design and style of the car.

The growth phase began after World War 2 and can be seen as the Golden age of automobile with new markets, designs and policies. The phase stretched til the 1990s.

Currently we are in the mature phase of the automobile life-cycle. Although it still dominates the transport industry of today, the United States have come to a point where most families own an automobile. There has also been developments in other transportation modes such as public transport to mitigate the damages that the automobile have produced to the environment over the years.

The dates are accurate to the actual life cycle of the automobile.

S-curve of the Automobile


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