The Evolution of Car Design

The automobile is one of the most significant inventions. It shifted transportation on a massive level, allowing people to cover great distances in a short period. Fifteen years ago, the idea of self-driving cars sounded like a wild dream that would take a few more decades to achieve. The continued evolution of car design has brought sophisticated machines that have revolutionised transportation.

Year after year, designers work to come up with the most advanced concepts as they seem to push the limit of vehicle manufacture even further than they have come. Looking at what they have achieved in the modern-day car, from improved safety features to electric charging, it is easy to forget how far designs have come. It helps to analyse what designers have achieved over the years.

Where It Started – 1908

On October 1 1908, Ford Motor began working on the Model T, which was the first vehicle that consumers could afford. Before that, there had been attempts to make engines that were fitted on horse carriages to create a motor vehicle. Various efforts were made to enhance the performance and power of motor engines to suit the growing demands from consumers. Several automobile makers had models available for consumers, but they were expensive to manufacture, which made them out of reach for buyers.

Ford was responsible for the evolution of the automobile when it began the assembly process. The company worked on streamlining the production to come up with a vehicle that the middle-class American could purchase without going bankrupt. Between 1908 and 1927, the company moved 16.5 million units. Its popularity grew, and Ford has several iterations of the Model T until it stopped being produced in 1927. According to Henry Ford, the Model T was made with the ‘simplest designs to be devised by modern engineering.’ It had a four-cylinder engine and resembled a horse-drawn carriage with no doors. This first car model paved the way for more creative car designs.

The 1920's - The Closed Body

As transportation options improved, so did the infrastructure. Paved roads meant that vehicles had better environments to drive on. The open-air carriage look of the Model T gave way to the closed body. Manufacturers began making longer cars, which translated to more features and increased capacity. 8- and 16-cylinder engines became common sights because manufacturers could afford to make long cars to accommodate their space requirements. Tarmacked roads also made it possible to have lower suspension on cars. The body became more curvaceous and elegant. The Lancia Lamba and Bugatti Type 35 are quintessential of the car design of the 1920's.

The '30's - Car Gets Lighter

Continued innovation led to the single-hull chassis that made vehicles less bulky. This advancement meant that manufacturers could have various parts of an automobile in one structure. Cars were less complicated to produce after this and manufacturers were able to boost the structural integrity of vehicles. Decreased weight is another advantage of the single-hull shell. Automakers had the chance to pile on a few more features to enhance the exterior of vehicles. Headlights, fenders and runner boards are some of the additional elements that designers came up with. The style also got sleeker compared to previous models. The Cadillac Sixty Special was one of the popular models of this time. The VW Beetle was another iconic marque of this time.

1940's to 1950's – Era of Rebirth

Automakers faced slow growth during WWII, but once the war was over, design innovations picked up. This period experienced some of the biggest changes in automobile design. Designers came up with the Pontoon style where several features on the vehicle's exterior were merged into one efficient form. The USSR was the first to incorporate this style in the 1946 Gaz-M20. Manufacturers across Europe and America began using the style. The look included large round headlights and a bulging hood. This design came with improvements in its aerodynamics and aesthetics.

The 1950’s were the beginning of the modern automobile. Manufacturers in Europe started making vehicles more compact in a bid to reduce fuel consumption. In the U.S., makers were going big, trying to increase comfort (Cadillac Eldorado and Chevy Corvette are some examples). This era produced some famous designs in the automobile industry. The Copper Mini is one of the most notable names of this period. Vehicles were fitted with large fins and wide bodies. By 1956, most car models were equipped with the power steering, giving drivers better control. Consumers also had more colour options.

The 1960's

European and Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Nissan took over the car industry during the '60's, modernising designs even further. Moving away from the box style that characterised the 50's, cars became sizeable, offering consumers efficient machines. Designers worked on creating faster, safer and better-looking vehicles without compromising their functionality. In America, a new generation of car design was being born in the form of the muscle car like the Ford Mustang. They were compact with low-profile cabins and extended hoods. It was also the era of metallic paints, which resulted in vibrant and eye-catching rides.

The 1970's

The 70s was a defining time in the car making industry. An oil embargo forced auto manufacturers to develop concepts that offered better affordability for consumers. Subcompact and compact vehicles made a mark during this period. The GMC Gremlin is one car that made a name in the economical range. The 70s was also the decade where manufacturers experimented with colours, trying out reds, yellows and oranges, among other bright hues.

The 1980's and 1990's - Increased Safety

This period saw engineers and designers came up with enhanced safety and entertainment features. Electronic fuel injection changed how a car engine operated, allowing fuel and air to mix efficiently, which improved performance. The boxy shape took form during the '80s with the DMC DeLorean leading the way. Fuel efficiency was a major aspect in designs, but vehicles were also slower compared to other periods. Airbag became standard safety features from 1984. CD players were also included in designs. In the 90s, drivers got navigation systems to improve their driving. The period brought finer lines to car shapes with highly defined contours. Modern-looking sports cars were created in this era.

The 2000's - Futuristic Designs

As the new millennium rang, automakers were going in different directions in their design choices. The period started with hybrids and culminated in smart cars. No distinct design can be pointed out as definitive of this time. Engineers focused on streamlining the aerodynamics of the modern vehicle. The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic are examples of cars that stood out in the 2000's. SUV gained popularity during the first decade. The Range Rover got a few tweaks from the designs of the '70s and '80s to give way to a more stylish and classier look. Manufacturers still maintained a few aspects of traditional designs like the teardrop chassis, which is present in the Lexus. Various technological advances influenced the evolution of the car design. Features like collision assistance sensors, safety sensor and navigation assistance are some of the major design feats of this period.

The Modern Era

Today’s car designs are all about making vehicles as fuel efficient as possible. The need for reduced carbon footprint is what led to electric cars from Nissan and Tesla. Materials have also advanced significantly, which has changed how manufacturers design automobiles. Carbon nanotubes and carbon fibre are some of the options that manufacturers have access to in the industry. The use of AI, and 'self-driving' car technology, is set to alter how carmakers will continue to develop automobiles in the future.