The idea for the first cruise control device is credited to Ralph Teetor, who was a mechanical engineer. Teetor came from a family that seemed to be rich in engineering knowledge—he worked for an automotive parts company that his family had founded. With his invention of cruise control, he certainly didn’t disappoint the rest of his innovative family.
Teetor, who was blind for most of his life, had a major interest in automobiles since a young age; he had actually built his own car already by the age of 12. Apparently, his idea for cruise control came after an uncomfortable ride with his lawyer, who was not good at keeping a constant driving speed while conversing with passengers. Teetor figured that he could fix this problem by inventing some kind of device that controlled the speed of an automobile, and by 1945, he had his invention patented.
The first implementation of cruise control in production automobiles didn’t occur until the late 1950s. In 1958, Chrysler, known for being an upscale automaker, installed cruise control in 3 of its models: the New Yorker, the Imperial, and the Windsor. Not to be outdone by one of its rivals, Cadillac offered cruise control across its entire model line by 1960. Today, every automaker offers cruise control on models across the board, from luxury cruisers to sports cars to trucks to econo-cars. According to Ward’s AutoWorld, an automotive publication, it is estimated that for the 2003 model year, 87% of the new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. were equipped with cruise control.
It is thought that cruise control was quicker to develop in America than in Europe due to the nature of the way people drive here. Americans tend to take long trips more frequently, and these trips are done on a highway system that requires monotonous use of constant speed over many miles; in Europe, trips tend to be shorter, and the speeds on the roads tend to be less constant.
The same can be said for the Japanese market. According to an article found in Business Week in 1997, when Honda was developing a new generation of their top selling Honda Accord, they decided to design it very differently for the different markets around the world in which it would be sold. Some hints in this article show how differently the American and Japanese markets treat cruise control technology. Concerning the new redesign, the article states that “this time around, the Japanese Accord won't be burdened with features dictated by American tastes.” It then specifically mentions that cruise control would not even be offered on the Japanese version, citing that “there's not as much driving on the open highway in Japan.” This points out an interesting exception to how the world often views the development of automotive technology—despite many electronically controlled automotive advancements having their roots in Japan and Europe, cruise control was initially developed in America, and still holds the most popularity in the American market.
Interestingly, even though early cruise control systems were developed in America, the developments in adaptive cruise control technology have their roots in Europe with Mercedes-Benz and TRW. It is fitting then that adaptive cruise control is currently offered primarily on luxury vehicles—five models from Mercedes-Benz offer it, as well as a handful of vehicles from Audi, Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, Volkswagen, and Jaguar. The only automaker to this point to offer it on a non-luxury platform has been Toyota, offering it on the latest Sienna minivan, though it is only offered on the top-of-the-line version. At this point, the cost of the technology keeps it from becoming an option on more mainstream vehicles, very similar to situation faced by the first cruise control systems of the late 1950s. Like those systems, it is expected that the adaptive systems will improve and become more widely available in just a matter of years.