The rest of us ride shotgun: Five automakers who have driven innovation

Photo collage by Aurich Lawson

We may not write about cars every day here at Ars Technica, but as my colleague Sean Gallagher’s recent articles have shown, the automotive world is changing, and the technologies we do write about daily are infusing the vehicles we drive. That should be no surprise since the history of the automobile itself is a history of continuing innovation.

For more than a century, the auto industry has witnessed a succession of inventors, designers, engineers, salesmen, and others trying to transform the way we get from A to B. Some of the ideas have been better than others, and some of the people have been more successful than others—often with little overlap. It looks different depending on what decade you dip into (everything from automatic shifting to electronic fueling can be considered innovative at the time), but this drive for progress is constant.

The vehicles on our roads today have been transformed almost beyond recognition from the hand-built vehicles of the beginning of the car era. We take for granted the fact that cars in 2014 are safe, efficient, and affordable, and those attributes have been made possible by advances in engineering, organization management, and even society (not to mention borrowing the occasional good idea from the aerospace industry). With recent talk of V2V and the next-gen engines fresh on our minds, let’s remember some of the most significant figures to have shaped the cars we drive—and even the world we live in—up to this point. 

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