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6 Car Companies You Might Not Realize Are 100+ Years Old

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Karl Benz founded the company that would one day be called Mercedes-Benz in 1883, and they sold their first automobile in 1886. Big whoop. Henry Ford made cars ubiquitous not long after founding his factory in 1903. Everybody knows that. That Messers Rolls and Royce first rolled out their long-hooded luxury cars in 1906 is less surprising than the Queen loving corgis.

Here are six car companies that you might never have guessed are among the oldest auto manufacturers in the world. Each has passed the 100-year mark, making them worthy of a birthday shout-out on the morning news.

1. Opel

© GM Company

Like many of the oldest car manufacturers, when Opel opened its doors in Germany in 1863, it wasn’t building cars. No one was at that point. Opel made sewing machines, then bicycles, and then, in 1899, started building automobiles. While the family that owned the business learned how to build these infernal contraptions, they partnered with companies like Darracq of France, which built carriages. By 1902, Opel was confident enough to debut its very own automobile at the Hamburg Motor Show, but not so confident that it ditched the sewing machine business. That bold step wouldn’t come until the whole plant burned down; when Opel rebuilt, they decided to only produce cars from then on. By 1913, they were the largest auto manufacturer in Germany, and by 1930, they made more cars than anyone in Europe (with a little help from their new friends at GM).

2. Fiat

Wikimedia Commons

In an industry filled with dreamers, firebrands, and fierce family pride, Fiat is a bit of an exception. It was founded in 1899 not by a man with a vision, not by a lowly Italian engineer with more guts than business smarts who was determined to make it against the odds, but rather by a board of directors wielding the sexy power of a company charter. And sure, in Latin “fiat” means “Let it be done,” which sounds strident, but don’t dye your toga purple for the party yet. The name is an acronym taken from the charter: Società Anonima Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. S.A. FIAT. Now they own Chrysler, so don’t discount the allure of a charter.

3. Tatra

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When most of us think of Tatras—if we think of them at all—we think of them as cars driven by the East German bad guys in spy movies of the '60s, or as conveyances for Soviet apparatchiks in vintage newsreels. By that time, this company was already over a hundred years old. It was founded in 1850 in the Czech Republic as a carriage builder (under the tongue twister of a name Nesselsdorfer-Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft). Building carriages made the transition to building horseless carriages pretty smooth, and in 1897—only one year after the pioneering Benz car—the Präsident (above) was available to purchase. The company changed its name to Tatra, after the nearby mountains, in 1919, and though it is struggling, Tatra is still making trucks today.

4. Peugeot

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Peugeot goes way, way, way back as a French family business. The automobile company counts its start as 1810, when the grain mill was converted to a steel foundry. But it would take eight decades for technology to catch up and the Peugeots to start building cars. Their first was the type 3 of 1891, which puttered along behind the Paris-Brest-Paris bike race to prove its mettle over 2045 km. This made perfect sense, given that Peugeot made bicycles in the same room where the cars were being built (cars got their own plant in 1897).

5. Renault

Renault

While many of the earliest auto manufacturers were established by nerdy engineers, the Renault brothers of France were a new breed and in it for speed. They fired up their first cars in 1898 and started racing immediately. (The oldest automotive joke, by the way, is that the first-ever car race happened when the second car was built.) The Renaults were young and saw racing as a way to promote their cars, little one-seaters called voiturettes. This race-on-Sunday-sell-on-Monday strategy is still used today, despite the fact that Marcel Renault crashed during a race in 1903 and died as a result.

6. Aston Martin

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A big happy hundredth to Aston Martin, which was founded in 1913 by Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin in the UK. Why wasn’t it called Bamford and Martin, you ask? Well, it was, for a year. They changed the name in 1914 after Martin raced the Aston Hill Climb, a peculiar type of race whose point is to make it to the top of a steep hill fastest. Brits apparently love it. Astons kind of flew along under the radar until they hit the pop culture jackpot in 1965. James Bond first drove a DB5 painted Silver Birch and sporting all the deadliest gadgets from Q’s lab in Goldfinger. That car sold for $4.4 million in 2010.

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iPhone’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ Feature Is Actually Reducing Distracted Driving (a Little)
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While it’s oh-so-tempting to quickly check a text or look at Google Maps while driving, heeding the siren call of the smartphone is one of the most dangerous things you can do behind the wheel. Distracted driving led to almost 3500 deaths in the U.S. in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and even more non-fatal accidents. In the summer of 2017, Apple took steps to combat the rampant problem by including a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” setting as part of its iOS 11 upgrade. And the data shows that it’s working, as Business Insider and 9to5Mac report.

The Do Not Disturb While Driving feature allows your iPhone to sense when you’re in a moving car, and mutes all incoming calls, texts, and other notifications to keep you from being distracted by your phone. A recent survey from the insurance comparison website EverQuote found that the setting works as intended; people who kept the setting enabled did, in fact, use their phones less.

The study analyzed driver behavior recorded by EverDrive, EverQuote’s app designed to help users track and improve their safety while driving. The report found that 70 percent of EverDrive users kept the Do Not Disturb setting on rather than disabling it. Those drivers who kept the setting enabled used their phone 8 percent less.

The survey examined the behavior of 500,000 EverDrive users between September 19, 2017—just after Apple debuted the feature to the public—and October 25, 2017. The sample size is arguably small, and the study could have benefited from a much longer period of analysis. Even if people are looking at their phones just a little less in the car, though, that’s a win. Looking away from the road for just a split second to glance at an incoming notification can have pretty dire consequences if you’re cruising along at 65 mph.

When safety is baked into the design of technology, people are more likely to follow the rules. Plenty of people might not care enough to enable the Do Not Disturb feature themselves, but if it’s automatically enabled, plenty of people won’t go through the work to opt out.

[h/t 9to5Mac]

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David B. Gleason, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Why You Sometimes See Black Tubes Stretched Across the Road
David B. Gleason, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
David B. Gleason, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you spend enough time driving down the right route, you may notice them: the skinny black tubes that seem to appear on stretches of road at random. But the scaled-down speed bumps are easy to miss. Unlike other features on the highway, these additions are meant to be used by the government, not drivers.

According to Jalopnik, those mysterious rubber cords are officially known as pneumatic road tubes. The technology they use is simple. Every time a vehicle’s tires hit the tube, it sends a burst of air that triggers a switch, which then produces an electrical signal that’s recorded by a counter device. Some tubes are installed temporarily, usually for about a day, and others are permanent. Rechargeable batteries powered by something like lead acid or gel keep the rig running.

Though the setup is simple, the information it records can tell federal agencies a lot about traffic patterns. One pneumatic tube can track the number of cars driving over a road in any given span of time. By measuring the time that passes between air bursts, officials can determine which time of day has the most traffic congestion. Two pneumatic tubes installed slightly apart from each other paint an even broader picture. Using this method, government agencies can gauge the class, speed, and direction of each vehicle that passes through.

Based on the data, municipalities can check which road signs and speed limits are or aren't working, and decide how much money to allot to their transportation budgets accordingly.

For a closer look at how these tubes are installed, check out the video below.

[h/t Jalopnik]

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