Steve Crandall:

It is unlikely much can be easily done in North America. Cars are components of very large systems that tightly bind society and technology erecting huge barriers to entry. I agree with Horace that studying the larger system makes more sense than just focusing on automobile technologies. An interesting place to start is to look at roads.

In 1890 the safety bicycle was taking over Europe and America. It made short trips in towns and cities much more practical, but there were a couple of little problems. Mud and manure. Any amount of rain would turn the mostly primative dirt roads into mud swamps and the means of transit the bike was beginning to displace created a lot of pollution. One account of Manhattan in 1890 suggested horses left about two and a half million pounds of manure and sixty thousand gallons of urine every day. Hot summers must have been somewhat less desirable than what we now experience.

Early automobiles, problematic as they were, represented such an improvement over the horse that people flocked to them. Crazy and not so crazy ideas were tried and something that seemed like a modern car emerged by around 1930. Just as important was the infrastructure. A serious national road system was proposed for bicycles with real work on automobile highways taking place in the teens. Much of what became the Interstate system was on the drawing board by the mid 1930s.