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What is Automotive Engineering?

By James Doehring
Updated: May 17, 2024

Automotive engineering is the discipline of designing, testing and producing vehicles such as cars, trucks and motorcycles. It has approximately 100 of history, ranging from the early Model T design to the modern climate-controlled car with an automatic transmission. Automotive engineering comprises a variety of engineering disciplines, including mechanical, aerospace, electrical and software engineering. Engineers who work on designing motor vehicles generally either specialize on one element or seek to integrate the pieces of a vehicle together. Recent focuses in automotive engineering include improving fuel economy and reducing vehicle emissions.

German engineer Karl Benz is generally credited with being the inventor of the modern automobile in 1885. These early automobiles were commonly termed “horseless carriages” because they augmented the basic design of a carriage with a gasoline internal combustion engine. American entrepreneur Henry Ford, on the other hand, was the first to mass-produce automobiles. Ford applied the assembly line model, which had workers specialize in specific tasks, to the production of cars. Though a large number of minor improvements have been steadily introduced, the basic design of the automobile has not changed since its invention.

The areas of automotive engineering can generally be broken into two categories. Like in all engineering disciplines, some automotive engineers focus on improving particular components of a car, truck or motorcycle. These specialists might channel their efforts on optimizing brake, engine or transmission design. Other engineers seek to integrate the various parts of an automobile into a functioning whole. They might test the cooperation between engine and transmission or the compatibility of electronic systems.

Recent decades have brought on a shift in the objectives of automotive engineering. Substantial rises in oil prices during the 1970s have caused fuel economy to be important in an automobile. Smaller engines and more efficient ways of combining fuel and air were developed during this period. There was also a focus on making cars and trucks more aerodynamic. An aerodynamic body shape can reduce the force of air friction a vehicle experiences.

Concern about smog in cities and global climate change has also affected automotive engineering. Internal combustion engines exhaust pollutants and carbon dioxide, which acts as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Governments are increasingly taxing automobiles based on their emissions, and many areas require emissions testing to legally drive on local roads. Vehicle manufacturers have responded to these requirements by installing pollution-reducing devices and decreasing the amount of fuel consumed by an automobile.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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