CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

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

Getty Images
Getty Images

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

Wikimedia Commons

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

Wikimedia Commons

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

Getty Images

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
environment
Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
Here's How Much Traffic Congestion Costs the World's Biggest Cities
iStock
iStock

Traffic congestion isn't just a nuisance for the people who get trapped in gridlock on their way to work, it’s also a problem for a city's economy, City Lab reports. According to a study from the transportation consulting firm INRIX, all that time stuck in traffic can cost the world’s major cities tens of billions of dollars each year.

The study, the largest to examine vehicle traffic on a global scale, measured congestion in 1360 cities across 38 countries. Los Angeles ranked number one internationally with drivers spending an average of 102 hours in traffic jams during peak times in a year. Moscow and New York City were close behind, both with 91 lost hours, followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil with 86 and San Francisco with 79.

INRIX also calculated the total cost to the cities based on their congestion numbers. While Los Angeles loses a whopping $19.2 billion a year to time wasted on the road, New York City takes the biggest hit. Traffic accounts for $33.7 billion lost by the city annually, or an average of $2982 per driver. The cost is $10.6 billion a year for San Francisco and $7.1 billion for Atlanta. Those figures are based on factors like the loss of productivity from workers stuck in their cars, higher road transportation costs, and the fuel burned by vehicles going nowhere.

Congestion on the highway can be caused by something as dramatic as a car crash or as minor as a nervous driver tapping their brakes too often. Driverless cars could eventually fix this problem, but until then, the fastest solution may be to discourage people from getting behind the wheel in the first place.

[h/t City Lab]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios