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10 Biggest Car Technology Breakthroughs of the Last 20 Years

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This article is sponsored by EduBirdie.

It all started with steam power. Can you believe it? Back in the 18th century, steam-powered vehicles appeared for the first time. They were scary and so dangerous that Great Britain passed a law requiring a man to carry a red flag and blow a horn while walking in front of the vehicle.

Yeah; we’ve come a long way. When you look at today’s Tesla Model 3, Honda Insight, Hyundai Veloster, or Toyota Rav 4 Hybrid, you’re grateful you live in this era of technological advancement. It wasn’t easy to get this far. There’s a lot of research and testing behind every piece of technology in your vehicle.

Let’s see: what are the biggest technological breakthroughs in the automotive industry over the last 20 years?

1. Navigation

The Chrysler Pacifica took home the “Best of 2017’ award from

We’re already used to GPS in our cars. Before Mazda introduced the Eunos Cosmo with a GPS system in 1990, drivers relied on the good-old paper maps.

Who do we have to thank for this technology? The United States Air Force first launched the Global Positioning System in 1978. If you lack ideas for research paper topics, you can write about the history of GPS. You won’t even need to hire research helpers since you’ll be inspired enough. Who doesn’t enjoy exploring the history of cars?  

2. Better Headlamp Technology

The 2016 Fiat 500c is a stylish compact vehicle that carries a starting MSRP of $20,395

It’s another big change that the 90s brought. The high-Intensity Discharge headlamps were introduced in 1992. They were much brighter than halogen lamps that were traditionally installed in vehicles before then. LED headlamps hit the market during the early 2000s. Today, we have adaptive LED headlamps that detect the surrounding conditions and automatically adapt to them.

3. DCTs

transmission gear shifter car interior

With the introduction of advanced dual-clutch transmissions in the early 2000s, we forgot about all the disadvantages of automatic transmission. Finally, drivers became able to quickly shift gears for an effortless experience.

This technology was used for racing cars in the 1980s. Why did it take so long to enter the mainstream market? That’s another topic for your research paper.

4. Turbocharging

A simple turbocharger design
Photo: Flickr/Frank Derks

Ford and General Motors were the industry leaders in this department. In 2008 and 2009, they were the first producers to introduce small turbocharged engines in affordable vehicles. From this point on, small vehicles were no longer mocked. With this technology, they started achieving the power of much larger engines. 

5. Autonomous driving system

self driving car animation
Photo: Pixabay

If you don’t own an expensive new vehicle, this technology may still seem like science fiction to you. However, premium cars from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo, and Audi already have it.

6. Automatic pedestrian detection and emergency braking system

School crossing pedestrian crossing yellow street sign traffic safety
Photo: The News Wheel

Do you know why Volvo has the reputation of manufacturing the safest cars? It’s because they developed the first commercial emergency braking assistant that automatically stops the car to avoid a collision. Volvo used laser camera technology to make this happen.

7. Smart Key Fobs

Replace Battery Car Key Fob open close
Photo: The News Wheel

Did you get to drive a car that required you to turn the key to start it up? It seems so distant now. Smart key fobs may seem simple from today’s point of view but think about the convenience they provide.


Photo: Yama Lee

A great mechanic will know the problem without the on-board diagnostics system. However, this technology helps you know when your car needs attention. Some problems can go unnoticed until they cause damage. Thanks to the lights that appear on the board, you know when it’s time to see a mechanic. 

9. Uber

Uber App
Photo: FreeStocks

This isn’t vehicle technology per se. However, the car-sharing concept has real potential to change the automotive industry. As more people embrace the idea of sharing rides, we’ll be seeing fewer vehicles on the streets. Car manufacturers will face low sales numbers, so they will focus on purpose-built vehicles.

10. Adaptive cruise control

buick adaptive cruise control
Photo: GamblinMotors

Thanks to this technology based on long-range radars, the car can maintain a constant speed. However, it can also speed up or brake, depending on the level of traffic it identifies ahead.

Are we ready for all this?

Advanced technology makes vehicles faster, safer, and much more fun to drive. However, they need great roads in order to thrive. Many countries around the world haven’t developed good road infrastructure. Governments have to improve the quality of the roads, so they will enable people to drive great cars as comfortably as possible.

Over the last two decades, we’ve witnessed huge progress across the automotive industry. It’s been great seeing it, and we’re ready for more. The question is: can our roads handle such progress?