Dr. Shantha Mohan

"Before you say you can't do something, try it."

- Sakichi Toyoda

The evolution of the automotive industry has been one of constant experimentation and innovation. What started as a three-wheel Benz Patent- Motorwagen has evolved into today’s electric and autonomous vehicles.

Three-wheel Benz Patent- Motorwagen

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen (“patent motorcar”), built ‘1885 by the German Karl Benz, is widely regarded as the first practical modern automobile and was the first car put into production. It was patented and unveiled in 1886.– Wikipedia

It would fall to a woman, Karl’s wife Bertha, to popularize the Benz Patent-Motorwagen with her trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim in August 1888. Shortly after, it became commercially available.

We have come a long way since then. Here are some key technology milestones in global automobile history:

1886 – Benz Patent-Motorwagen: Karl Benz’s invention of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen is considered the birth of the automobile. It featured a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

1888 – First Electric Vehicle Taxi: The Flocken Elektrowagen became the first electric taxi in Germany, showcasing early advancements in electric vehicle technology.

1908 – Ford Model T: Introduced by Ford, the Model T revolutionized the automotive industry with assembly line production, making cars more affordable and accessible to the general public.

1913 – First Mass Production of Cars: The first assembly line production of the entire automobile by Henry Ford reduced the time to build a car from over ten hours to under two.

Early 1900s – First Commercially Viable Hybrid Car: The Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid is introduced and refined.

1950s – Power Steering: Initially introduced by Chrysler in the 1951 Imperial, power steering became a significant technological advancement, making steering easier.

1960s – Anti-lock Braking System (ABS): ABS technology became more widespread, improving vehicle safety by preventing wheel lockup during braking.

1970s – Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and Airbags: The introduction of electronic control units computerized various automotive systems, enhancing performance, efficiency, and safety. Some high-end vehicles had airbags installed, and by the late 1980s, they became standard safety features in many cars.

1990s – GPS Navigation Systems: GPS technology was integrated into automobiles.

2000s – Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (EVs): Hybrid and electric vehicles were developed and adopted, with companies like Toyota introducing the Prius in the USA in the early 2000s.

2010s – Autonomous Driving Technology: Companies like Tesla incorporated features like Autopilot, showcasing the potential for self-driving cars.

2020s – Advancements in Electric Vehicles: The 2020s witnessed a significant shift toward electric vehicles (EVs), with advancements in battery technology, longer-range EVs, and increased infrastructure for charging.

Current State of the Automobile Industry

The invention of the first commercially viable automobile heralded a new age of mobility and transportation. As the above timeline shows, constant innovations in the industry enabled by the evolution of technology have brought us to a new chapter today with advancements in the electrification of powertrains, autonomous driving, and connected vehicles.

All Electric Vehicle

The 2022 Goldman Sachs article, Software is Taking Over the Auto Industry, says, “The average lines of software code per vehicle doubled from 100 million in 2015 to 200 million in 2020, driven by wider adoption of electrified vehicle control and autonomous driving. GS Research believes that growth could accelerate in the next few years, with each car requiring as much as 650 million lines of code by 2025.”

In the 20th century, the skills needed for a career in the core automotive industry used to be centered around mechanical engineering and machines. It is no longer the case.

Recent technology advances have transformed the nature of work in the auto industry. While traditional jobs are being lost, it has created and continues to create new jobs.

Learning and Development in the 21st-Century Automotive Industry

The first electric automobile was created more than a century ago. Still, the recent focus on climate control has spurred advances in the development of electric vehicles and ancillaries such as battery technology. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics article from 2021 says there are three main areas where labor changes will occur. These are designing and developing electric vehicle models, producing batteries that power them, and installing and maintaining charging infrastructure.

The occupations that are expected to be in demand are those of software engineers who create the applications that control the vehicles; electrical engineers who develop the electrical systems that run the vehicles, the charging stations, and battery technology; the electronic engineers who create the components that have become integral to the vehicle system; and chemical engineers who create the battery technologies and work on recycling the batteries.

Autonomous vehicle development has created jobs in the software industry to deal with data analysis, cybersecurity in connected vehicles, and developing Internet of Things (IoT) capability for in-car systems and vehicle performance monitoring.

Driverless Vehicle Components

Image source:

Other technological advances, such as generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and spatial computing, are also becoming essential in the industry. For example, the Nvidia blog presents several ways in which GenAI is powering many innovations in the auto industry. The 2022 article How AR and VR are Transforming the Automotive Industry discusses the many possibilities of augmented and virtual reality in the auto industry, including training and maintenance. Skills in these technologies are required to continue to advance the auto industry.  

Many more advances are being made in the automotive industry ecosystem beyond the core of building the vehicles. Safety regulations, which have significantly impacted some of the advances, will continue to play a much-needed role in shaping the industry as we move forward.

The auto industry has been preparing the workforce through various means to work on hybrid, electric, and autonomous vehicles. Specialized training programs, certification courses, and electric vehicle technician training are some instruments for upskilling the auto industry workforce. Educational institutes like the University of Michigan offer advanced certification courses in automated and electric vehicles. 

The 2019 IEEE Spectrum article, Electric Vehicle Manufacturers Need Engineers With AI and Robotics Skills, quotes University of Illinois power electronics instructor Philip Krein. He says, “One important skill students should be taught is systems-level thinking, so they can understand how artificial intelligence, robotics, software, and other technologies interact with one another. That type of thinking is rare in the auto industry.”

It appears that systems thinking practice is one of the best-kept secrets in the auto industry. In The Society for Organizational Learning Journal article “Building a Systems Thinking Culture at Ford Motor Company,” Jeremy Seligman discusses how Systems Thinking (ST) has been practiced at Ford for several decades and the learning programs such as Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP) to build ST capacity at Ford. The article, The Organizational Learning Goal at Ford’s EFHD (EFHD stands for Electrical and Fuel Handling), says, “In order to strengthen our internal capacity, we have developed a learning course in partnership with our local community college. In this intensive, week-long course, people from our Michigan and Indiana plants come together with employees from our overseas divisions to learn the basic theory and skills of the learning organization. They also work through concrete examples of how we have applied systems thinking and team learning at EFHD.”

"The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn."

- Herbert Gerjuoy

The Future Demands Continuous Learning

The future of the auto industry is bright and exciting. While traditional jobs will be less in demand, new jobs will replace them. It behooves everyone to continue to learn, keep pace with the changes, and claim their part in the journey that continues to shape our lives.


Dr. Shantha Mohan

Software Engineering Leader, Author, Mentor

Author Spotlight

Dr. Shantha Mohan is a mentor, project guide, and an Executive in Residence at the iLab, Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Before that, she was a global technical leader and entrepreneur, co-founding Retail Solutions Inc., a retail analytics company. She also has over 20 years of experience focused on mission-critical systems to support semiconductor and other high-value-added manufacturing. 

Dr. Shantha is a three-time author, has authored Roots and Wings – Inspiring Stories of Indian Women in Engineering, and has co-authored Demystifying AI for The Enterprise – A Playbook for Business Value and Digital Transformation. Her newest book, Leadership Lessons with The Beatles: Tips and Tools for Becoming Better at Leading, was published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis in May 2022.

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