The automobile, in all its forms, is one of the most widely used and important technologies of our time. It has changed the way we live, transport ourselves and our goods.
Automobiles can be defined as any self-propelled motor vehicle with four wheels and a motor. They are fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. The term “automobile” is also often used to describe other four-wheeled motor vehicles with their own power source, such as buses, trucks and motorcycles.
Automotive engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the design, manufacture and technology of cars, trucks, buses, tractors and other wheeled vehicles. The primary focus is on the development of a vehicle’s engine, transmission, suspension, steering and other systems that allow it to travel on land.
Mechanical features of an automobile include an internal-combustion engine; a fuel tank; a radiator, which cools the engine by passing air through it; a battery (for charging an electric motor) and a clutch, which is used to connect and disconnect the motor from the transmission. Other components include the braking system, the differential, the drive train, the engine control system and the instrumentation.
The design of an automobile can depend largely on its intended use, which may vary with the nature of road or off-road terrain and the needs of the user. For example, automobiles designed for off-road use are often simpler, more durable and less expensive than those designed for on-road travel.
A car’s design must be balanced against the need to provide the driver with a comfortable and safe ride and to accommodate the driver’s personal equipment. The optimum combination of these features depends on the weight and speed of the rider, the terrain, the vehicle’s height and its stability in various driving conditions, and the capabilities of the engine, transmission and suspension.
In the United States, the demand for automobiles grew in the early twentieth century because of a large domestic market and because of cheap raw materials available for production. This made it possible to produce automobiles in larger volumes at lower prices than in Europe and to sell them over a vast geographic area, where tariff barriers made it impractical to sell in smaller quantities.
By the 1920s, the United States had surpassed Europe as the world’s largest car market. As the number of cars on the road grew, so too did the economic importance of the industry. It became the main consumer of petroleum, one of the chief users of steel and a major customer of many other industrial products.
During this period, Ford and other companies developed techniques for mass production of automobiles using standardized parts and a moving assembly line. This method enabled the production of a wide range of models at varying price levels.
However, market saturation halted technological progress and quality began to suffer. This was particularly true of American-made cars, which became increasingly gas-guzzlers and lacked the sophisticated safety and efficiency features that were once standard. At the same time, Detroit’s reliance on gasoline as its primary energy source led to the depletion of dwindling world oil reserves. This has led to environmental problems that require the development of alternative forms of transportation and increased emphasis on environmentally sound and sustainable engineering.