The majority of automobiles and other motor-powered vehicles manufactured during the 20th century were powered by real-wheel drive; and this was considered the conventional set-up. However, during the consumer gas crisis of the 1970s, many automobile manufacturers began switching to front-wheel drive systems, which offer several advantages over their rear-wheel counterparts. These include fuel efficiency, design benefits and better handling in slippery conditions.
During the 1970s, demand for gasoline---and gasoline prices---rose drastically in response to fears of an oil shortage. According to all-about-car-selection.com, this event prompted automobile manufacturers, like General Motors and Ford to seek out ways of increasing the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. On solution they found was to switch from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive configurations, the components of which could fit in more easily into compact vehicle bodies. This meant automobile manufacturers could produce lighter-weight vehicles, which required less gasoline to power them.
As mentioned above, the design of front-wheel drive cars allows them to be smaller and lighter in weight. According to thecarguy.com, this primarily has to do with the arrangement of the differential (which is a set of gears that allows wheels on opposite sides of axels to rotate at different speeds) and the transmission (which transmits power from the engine to the wheels). While in rear-wheel drive vehicles, a driveshaft connects the engine to a separate differential and a separate transmission box; in a front-wheel drive car, all of these components are packed together up front with the engine. Due to the placement of the transmission and the differential---which in a single package is referred to as a transaxle, there is no need for a bulky transmission compartment or tunnelling for a driveshaft, which would otherwise take up space. This creates roomy automobile interiors, even in automobiles that are considered compact.
The location of transaxles in the front of front-wheel drive vehicles also serves another purpose besides saving space: it helps weigh down the front of vehicles. According to all-about-car-selection.com, front-wheel drive cars typically have about 60 per cent of their weight in the front and 40 per cent in the back. The unequal weight distribution makes front-wheel drive cars incredibly inept at navigating in muddy, icy, snowy, rainy or otherwise slippery conditions. This is because those wheels responsible for steering and providing the power to the vehicle are given an extra push down in to contact with the road's surface.