The History of Car Technology

The History of Car Technology



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Gesture controls

Forget touchscreen – carmakers are already working on making displays that respond to gesture control.

Biometric access

Sorry 1949, but one day car keys might be a thing of the past! Carmakers are working on technology to let you unlock and start your car with your fingerprint.

Windscreen displays

Soon all the information you need about the car could be displayed on smart glass in the windscreen.


375 reads

2000 – Hybrid cars

2000 – Hybrid cars

Adding a hybrid motor to a petrol engine was first dreamed up in the 19th century, but the idea was deemed unworkable. 

Toyota picked it up again at the turn of the century and invented the Prius, taking the world by storm. Today every carmaker is working on hybrid cars.


404 reads

1953 – Air conditioning

The Chrysler Imperial was the first production car to have air conditioning  as an option. It came with three settings: low, medium and high. The following year, the Nash “Integrated” system offered front end heating, ventilation and air conditioning, making driving a much more pleasurable experience in the summer.


554 reads

The timeline infographic: 1886 to 1971

The timeline infographic: 1886 to 1971

  • 1886 – The first car is invented
  • 1908 – Ford produced Model T
  • 1911 – Electric ignition starters
  • 1921 – Cigarette lighters
  • 1930 – Car radio
  • 1934 – Coil spring suspension
  • 1949 - Car keys
  • 1951 – Power steering
  • 1953 – Air conditioning
  • 1958 – Cruise control
  • 1959 – Seatbelts
  • 1960s – Electric windows
  • 1969 – Intermittent windshield wipers
  • 1970s – Cassette tape stereos
  • 1971 – ABS technology


2.13K reads

1930 – Car radio

1930 – Car radio

The first car stereo was created in 1930 in monophonic AM frequency.

For the first time, driving could be set to music, though it would be another 22 years before the first radio capable of receiving FM frequency was added to a car, in 1952.


838 reads

1992 – Electromagnetic parking sensors

Electromagnetic parking sensors alert you to hazards when parking.

They were “re-invented” from previous technology that hadn’t taken off in the 1970s.


431 reads

1908 – Ford produced Model T

1908 – Ford produced Model T

Ford’s Model T was the world’s first car produced by assembly line. This great leap in technology made the car much cheaper and therefore more widely affordable.

Its 20 horsepower petrol engine could reach speeds of 45mph, which was still slower than the galloping horses of the day.


1.4K reads


Explore the history of car technology and how it has transformed the way we drive. 

We’ve put together a timeline showing the evolution of car tech, from the first car to ever be invented to a raft of post-war technology including safety features and electric systems.


3.01K reads

1921 – Cigarette lighters

Wireless cigarette lighters had a removable component that was heated by electricity. By 1925 they were standard in most American cars.

Today cigarette lighters have fallen out of fashion, but we still have the sockets to plug in electric gadgets, like sat navs.


1.05K reads

2003 – Automatic parking

Toyota was first to launch this tech with its Intelligent Parking Assist that helped drivers parallel park.

In 2006, Lexus added a self-parking system to the LS model. Automatic parking is now available on many new cars.


296 reads

1959 – Seatbelts

1959 – Seatbelts

The modern three-pin seatbelt was invented by Nils Bohlin, Volvo’s first safety engineer. Volvo decided to give away the patent to other carmakers for free, knowing it would save lives.

It was compulsory for carmakers to fit seatbelts in the UK from 1965, but only compulsory to wear them in the front seats from 1983. Wearing a seatbelt became compulsory for all children from 1989 and for back seat passengers from 1991.


461 reads

1949 - Car keys

Looking for a better way to get the car running, Chrysler invented a technology to start both the electric starter and the ignition.

It placed this power inside a key and soon everyone was using one.


743 reads

1974 – Digital dashboard displays

Move over analogue dials! The first digital dashboard display appeared in an Aston Martin  Lagonda. It included trip computers, speed and temperature readings and fuel economy measures. However, digital dashboards weren’t that popular with drivers at the time, and most cars today still use an analogue speedometer alongside the digital displays.


371 reads

The timeline infographic: 1973 to 2020

The timeline infographic: 1973 to 2020

  • 1973 – Catalytic converter
  • 1974 - Digital dashboard displays
  • 1984 – CD players
  • 1988 – Airbags
  • 1992 – Electromagnetic parking sensors
  • 1994 – On-board diagnostics
  • 1996 – Connected cars
  • 2000 – GPS sat nav
  • 2000 – Hybrid cars
  • 2001 – Bluetooth
  • 2002 – Reversing camera
  • 2003 – Automatic parking
  • 2010s – Driver assist features
  • 2014 – Tesla autopilot
  • 2014 – 4G wi-fi hotspots
  • 2020 - Self-driving cars


1.42K reads

1958 – Cruise control

Cruise control is a system developed to allow the driver to maintain a constant speed without the use of the accelerator.

The system made steady driving easier, especially on motorways. It was first used in another Chrysler Imperial and by 1960 it was a standard feature on all Cadillacs too.


504 reads

1984 – CD players

Technology called CDX-1 became the first car CD player, eventually supplanting cassette tapes, which had become old technology.


378 reads

2001 – Bluetooth

The first hands-free bluetooth kit appeared in 2001. Later that year, an even better bluetooth technology came out that worked with speech recognition. These days bluetooth is integrated with the cars’ infotainment system.


347 reads

1911 – Electric ignition starters

1911 – Electric ignition starters

Electric ignition starters were invented to replace manual hand cranks and to start the engine with a button instead. Hand cranks were considered to be dangerous because the engine could jump as the car started, occasionally injuring the driver.

The first electric starter was used on a Cadillac in 1912 and they were soon widely adopted.


1.13K reads

2020 - Self-driving cars

2020 is the projected release date of Google’s self-driving car, the Waymo.

It completed its first driverless ride on public roads in 2015 in Austin Texas with a blind man behind the wheel.


389 reads

2010s – Driver assist features

Dozens of automatic technology features have been developed to assist the driver. Common examples include, lane departure warnings, blind spot warnings, cross traffic alerts and headlamp high beam control.

Carmakers have also begun adding smartphone integration, with many producing apps so you can find your car via GPS, and remotely lock the car and check its fuel levels.


251 reads

1934 – Coil spring suspension

Many carmakers began looking at ways to make driving more comfortable, and they landed on coil spring suspension. Each wheel (initially just the front two) was given its own metal coil spring, which compresses itself to absorb the shock you feel when driving over bumps in the road. This made for a much smoother, relaxing ride.


724 reads

1960s – Electric windows

The smooth buzz of rolling down an electric window was originally only available on luxury models,and it was usually an optional extra on most cars until quite recently. But eventually winding down your car windows became a thing of the past.


486 reads

2002 – Reversing camera

This technology has prevented many a reversing mishap. Little cameras stream live footage of the area behind the car as you reverse. The technology was first used outside of America in a Nissan Primera.


316 reads

2014 – 4G wi-fi hotspots

This new technology can turn your car into a travelling 4G router, meaning passengers can use it to connect smart devices to the Internet.


407 reads

1969 – Intermittent windshield wipers

Until this point, windscreen wipers had only had one speed, no matter the weather. Ford changed this to adjust the speed.


468 reads

1886 – The first car is invented

1886 – The first car is invented

Austrian Karl Benz invented the first true automobile in the 19th century.

It was powered by an internal combustion engine and had three wheels.


6.29K reads

2014 – Tesla autopilot

2014 – Tesla autopilot

Elon Musk was the first to offer autopilot technology on the Model S.

It’s the first commercially available driver assistance that can steer the car and even change lanes on the motorway.


370 reads

1988 – Airbags

1988 – Airbags

Previous iterations of airbags were installed in US government cars from the 1970s, but in 1988 Chrysler introduced the first production airbag.

Originally they were just for drivers, but today airbag technology can be placed all around the car to protect all passengers.


361 reads

2000 – GPS sat nav

There were versions of GPS sat nav systems built in from the early 90s, but the US military added interference to the signals as they guarded the technology closely. In 2000, US President Bill Clinton ordered the military to stop scrambling GPS signals and open the technology up to everyone. Sat navs were quickly developed, though it was several more years before they were more accurate.


265 reads

1994 – On-board diagnostics

Ford first created computer diagnostics for its factory line in the 1980s. But over time the built-in 16-pin connector became essential for all carmakers because it also gave garage mechanics access to key information about the car for repairs. On-board diagnostics connections became compulsory in America in 1996 and Europe in 2001.


324 reads

1970s – Cassette tape stereos

In the 1970s, carmakers began adding stereos that could play the latest cassette tape technology. Now drivers could blast out their favourite Led Zeppelin albums from their cars!


442 reads

1973 – Catalytic converter

This technology was designed to clean up polluting exhaust fumes by reducing toxic emissions created by the engine. Catalytic converters became compulsory in petrol cars from 1993.


522 reads

1971 – ABS technology

1971 – ABS technology

ABS or Anti-Lock Braking System, is a clever technology that stops the wheels locking up during sharp braking, preventing skidding.

It was originally used on trains and Concorde aircraft, before being adapted for a Chrysler Imperial.


488 reads

1951 – Power steering

Power steering technology uses hydraulic power to amplify the pressure on the wheels as you as you turn the steering wheel, saving you so much elbow grease. Power steering first appeared on a Chrysler Imperial and then in a Cadillac a year later.


646 reads

1996 – Connected cars

General Motors launched connected cars with its OnStar system, which used your mobile phone to call 911 in an accident.

Today the technology links with the phones’ GPS location to guide the emergency services straight to the car.


331 reads



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