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10 People Who Revolutionized the Automobile Industry

You may not have heard much about them, but these individuals greatly impacted the automobile industry.

People Who Revolutionized the Automobile Industry

Can you imagine a world without cars? It's not too difficult, is it? We'd be walking everywhere. We likely wouldn't have the same level of prosperity that we enjoy today. Thanks to automobiles, our lives (and society) are very different than they were 100 years ago.

Automotive enthusiasts have a few pets. Some love Ferraris, some love Porsches, and most love all of the above. While these beasts are incredibly cool, and I'm proud to be one of those "some," it's fitting that we take time to learn about the people behind them. In particular, the people who changed the game through innovation years ago. Not only did they drive their respective fields of study forward, but they created a string of innovations that were introduced over several decades.

The most popular of these innovators range from Henry Ford, Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, and lesser-known names like Nicolas Joseph Cugnot and many others in between. Regardless of who you idolize the most or how they revolutionized the industry at large, we owe them a lot (yes, even you, Elon Musk). So without further ado – it's time to put these heavyweights under microscopes!

To celebrate them today, I've put together a list of 10 people that changed the automotive landscape forever.

1Etienne Lenoir

Etienne Lenoir

Father Of The Combustion Engine

The automotive industry is experiencing a fundamental change. The new green movement that started in the mid-2000s has resulted in hybrid and electric cars being seen as environmental saviors. However, while it is fair to admit that cars emit hazardous gases, looking into the supply chain of electric vehicles would have the most hardcore tree huggers go for descendants of Etienne Lenoir's creation.

French sports cars pack quite a punch, but the Germans, Italians, and Americans are the true masters of outlandish engines. However, companies such as Porsche or Cadillac would be nothing without Etienne Lenoir's invention: the internal combustion engine.

RELATED: Diesel vs. Gas Trucks: Which is Better?

2Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari

Maker Of The Most Popular Brand In The World

The automobile is still a status symbol. Marketers know this and exploit it. Recent years have seen the luxury carmakers Chrysler and Genesis try to project an image of opulence, while the truly luxurious brands—Rolls-Royce and Ferrari—do not advertise on television. One can assume that Enzo Ferrari set the stage for his company to be exclusive and popular without publicly competing with other brands.

Enzo Ferrari was born with an affinity for cars and racing. As a child, he loved tinkering with engines. After leaving school, he worked for Alfa Romeo, where he earned a reputation as an excellent driver. When his relationship with Alfa Romeo soured, Ferrari decided to start his own car company—an endeavor that would make him rich and famous.

RELATED: Top 10 Fastest Ferrari of all Time

3Karl Probst

Karl Probst

Creator Of Light Off-Road Vehicles

World War II had a tremendous impact on the world. After the war, which was largely fought in Europe, the United States emerged as a global superpower. The German Wehrmacht demonstrated its technological superiority multiple times during World War II. In addition to Blitzkrieg (a new war tactic), American armed forces were forced to adopt new machines that would enable them to be victorious on the battlefield.

The outcome of World War 2 shaped today's world. One name hardly mentioned is Karl Probst, creator of the original Willys Jeep. The vehicle allowed troops to navigate battlefields in Europe and Japan, making it a legendary wartime utility vehicle. In later years, Jeep paid tribute to this legendary vehicle several times.

4Charles Kettering

Charles Kettering

Father Of The Muscle Car

During World War 2, cars became less popular. When men went abroad to fight, factories were repurposed to support the war effort, and the manufacturing of civilian goods was halted. After the war, American automakers took advantage of technological advancements made during the war. Cars became sleeker and more elegant while they also got faster. It was around this time that the first muscle car was born.

Charles Kettering is responsible for several inventions that changed the automobile industry, including the electric starter and leaded gasoline. However, some of his most important work came during his time at General Motors, where he developed the first muscle car, the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88.

5Ferruccio Lamborghini

Ferruccio Lamborghini

The Man Behind The First Supercar

Ferrari and Lamborghini are both Italian luxury car brands. Both are known for their sporty, high-performance vehicles and a certain level of exclusivity. However, most gearheads don't know that these two brands are connected in many ways and would never have existed were it not for poor customer service at Ferrari.

There are a lot of things that only real gearheads know about Lamborghini, like the fact that Enzo Ferrari's hot temper motivated Ferruccio Lamborghini to manufacture his own cars. Since Lamborghini was already a well-established company, he didn't have much he had to do to become relevant. He would then become the first company to design a supercar.

RELATED: Top 10 Most Expensive Lamborghini in the World

6John W Hetrick

John W Hetrick

Inventor Of The Safety Cushion Assembly For Automotive Vehicles

When cars became more powerful and sportier, accidents resulted in more casualties. One of the most notable casualties of the 1950s was James Dean, who died in a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder. Back then, cars were getting increasingly more powerful and sportier, yet safety devices were lacking. Thanks to engineers like John Hetrick, car safety drastically improved.

In 1950, John Hetrick invented the airbag after getting into a car accident. It was originally called a "safety cushion assembly" but is now better known as the airbag. Airbags save millions of lives each year by providing a soft landing for passengers in case they are involved in an accident.

7Nils Bohlin

Nils Bohlin

The Man That Saves The World

Car makers are always working on making cars more environmentally friendly. Although most cars today are less polluting than the ones made a few decades ago, safety remains a top priority for carmakers. Thanks to all the safety features in any given modern car, you can get into a major accident and walk away without a scratch. But, of course, the most important safety feature ever made remains the three-point seatbelt.

Nils Bohlin was an engineer at Volvo. While working at the car company, he developed the three-point seatbelt. This invention was revolutionary for cars and soon became standard equipment on nearly all motorized vehicles. Fortunately, Bohlin and Volvo never patented the three-point seatbelt and made it available to everyone.

8Mario Palazzetti

Mario Palazzetti

Inventor Of Safer Stopping Technology

Between 1950 and 1970, the power output of the average car tripled. Gearheads from yesteryear had the chance to drive some of the nicest classic cars ever made. While those cars were fast and insanely sporty for their era, they didn't have stellar stopping power. The braking systems at the time were not engineered for emergency stops.

Mario Palazzetti's name may not ring a bell, but he's an important figure in the history of automobile engineering. An engineer whose innovations helped to revolutionize the automotive industry, Palazzetti's most notable invention remains the anti-skid braking system. The ABS would eventually be included as standard equipment on the 1971 Chrysler Imperial.

9Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna

The Man That Tragically Changed An Entire Sport

The term "professional racing" is broad and can refer to a variety of sub-genres. The World Rally Championship, NASCAR, and the D1 Grand Prix are just a few examples of how diverse professional racing is. However, one genre trumps them all. Formula 1 is the racing sport that fascinates gearheads globally. Some notable drivers are notorious for their prowess on the track, while others are known for darker reasons.

When looking at how safety in Formula 1 has evolved for the better in recent decades, it is fair to say that many of the changes were due to Ayrton Senna's and Roland Ratzenberger's deaths at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Both drivers lost their lives that year. Following these tragic events, safety was drastically increased in the sport.

RELATED: The 10 Best Formula 1 Drivers Of All Time: The Definitive List

10Christian Von Koenigsegg

Christian Von Koenigsegg

The Man That Changed The Supercar Scene

When it comes to supercars, the major players are a few car companies from countries like Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Supercars are definitely a European thing, whether it is the monsters rolling off of Ferrari's assembly lines or the luxurious beasts made by Aston Martin. One company coming out of Sweden, namely Koenigsegg, reshaped the entire supercar scene by making something new and exciting that everyone wanted to drive.

Christian von Koenigsegg, the owner of one of the most prestigious hypercar companies in the world, surrounds himself with talented engineers. Recently, he showed that massive engines might be a thing of the past, as he revealed his new Gemera model, which comes equipped with a twin-turbocharged 2.0L inline-three producing 600 hp.

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Rank Company Country
#1 Volkswagen logoVolkswagen Germany
#2 Toyota logoToyota Japan
#3 Honda logoStellantis Netherlands
#4 Mercedes-Benz Group logoMercedes-Benz Group Germany
#5 Ford logoFord Motor United States
Rank Company Country
#1 Michelin logoMichelin France
#2 Bridgestone logoBridgestone Japan
#3 Continental logoContinental Germany
#4 Goodyear logoGoodyear United States
#5 Sumitomo logoSumitomo Japan