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The Autocar Company is an American specialist manufacturer of severe-duty, Class 7 and Class 8 vocational trucks, based in Hagerstown, Indiana. Started in 1897 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as a manufacturer of Brass Era automobiles, and trucks from 1899, Autocar is the oldest surviving motor vehicle brand in the Western Hemisphere.
The last cars were produced in 1911 and the company continued as a maker of severe-duty trucks. In 1953 Autocar was taken over by the White Motor Company which made Autocar their top-of-the-line brand. White was taken over in turn by Volvo Trucks in 1981 with Autocar continuing as a division. In 2001, Autocar was acquired by GVW Group, LLC, which revived Autocar as an independent company. Autocar now builds four models of custom-engineered, heavy-duty trucks and has regained leading positions in several vocational segments.
Autocar experimented with a series of vehicles from 1897, with a tricycle, "Autocar No. 1", now in the collection of the Smithsonian. In 1899 Autocar built the first motor truck ever produced for sale in North America. The first production Autocar automobile was a 1900 single cylinder chain drive runabout. About 27 were made. In 1901 Autocar built the first car in North America to use shaft drive. This vehicle is also now in the Smithsonian collection.
The 1904 Autocar was equipped with a tonneau, it could seat four passengers and sold for US$1700. The horizontal-mounted flat twin engine, situated at the front of the car, produced 11 hp (8.2 kW). This was a somewhat unusual engine design for the time, with most companies producing inline designs. A three-speed transmission was fitted. The steel and wood-framed car weighed 1675 lb (760 kg). The early cars had tiller steering.
In 1905 the company was selling the Type XII car for $2,250 and another it called the Type X for $1,000. It discontinued the Type XI and sold the last of them in 1905. The cars then had a wheel steering with left-hand drive.
The Type X was a runabout. During the 1905–1906 model year the company produced 1000 Type X cars. The manufacture of 500 Type XV runabouts was authorized for 1907 in place of 500 touring cars (Type XIV) in addition to the 1000 runabouts already planned. At special meeting on June 19, 1906 held at 711 Arcade Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the board authorized the hiring of a general manager by the name of Harry A. Gillis at a salary of $10,000 per year. Production of 300 Type XVI cars and 500 Type XVII were authorized during a board meeting on November 21, 1906.
Commercial vehicles were made the focus from 1907 and soon outnumbered cars.
As of 1911, Autocar was making only trucks. The first model, the Type XVII, had a 97-inch wheelbase, a one and a half-ton capacity, and a two-cylinder gasoline engine under the seat. Later engines had 4 and 6 cylinders, and wheelbases became longer. Inline engines became the company's focus.
During World War I, the Canadian Armoured Autocar used an Autocar chassis.
In 1929, Autocar sold 3300 units, though the number fell to 1000 in 1932 and continued to decline during the Great Depression. Larger trucks with "Blue Streak" gasoline engines and Diesel engines, mainly from Cummins, came later.
During World War II, Autocar supplied 50,000 units to the military, including specialty vehicles such as half-tracks; during its entire prewar history, the company had only built 70,000 units. Autocar ranked 85th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts. Civilian production resumed in 1944 and sales increased greatly after the war. Autocar soon had 100 dealers.