The Automobile


The automobile is a four-wheeled, motorized vehicle designed to carry people. It is powered by an internal combustion engine that uses gasoline, although some use electricity or other fuels. The engine is connected to the wheels by a drive train that can change speed to control acceleration and hill climbing. The car body provides space for passengers and storage.

The invention of the automobile changed many aspects of industry and technology, as well as everyday life. It allowed for more personal freedom and access to jobs, services and recreation. It prompted new laws and government requirements, like seatbelts and highway rules. It also brought pollution and destruction of natural habitats. And it created industries and jobs, like manufacturing of cars, and services such as gas stations.

There are more than 1.4 billion automobiles in operation worldwide. Most of them are passenger cars, which carry people on trips. Others are commercial vehicles such as trucks and vans. The automobile has become a main means of transportation, with more than three trillion miles driven each year in the United States alone. There are special “off road” vehicles that can go even further, but they tend to burn more fuel and be less reliable than a typical car.

Before the automobile, transportation was mostly by sea or rail. Having a car gave people the ability to travel long distances and visit friends and family more easily. The automobile made it possible for people to move from one town to another, and to work in different cities or countries.

Until the early 1910s, few Americans could afford an automobile. But Henry Ford’s manufacturing methods, such as the assembly line, reduced the price of his Model T until it was affordable to middle-class American families. The automobile quickly overtook horse-drawn carriages and dominated the streets and highways of Europe and America.

By the 1960s, market saturation had occurred simultaneously with technological stagnation, and innovation slowed to a crawl. This, combined with World War II, caused American automakers to focus on production for the war effort, making one-fifth of all the nation’s war production.

After the war, the automobile became a popular consumer good, and demand continued to grow. In the 1950s, the Japanese companies Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Suzuki began as loom manufacturers, but switched to automotive production in order to meet growing demand for automobiles.

The modern automobile is a complex technical system that utilizes thousands of components, each with specific design functions. Many of these have evolved from breakthroughs in existing technology, and others have been developed to satisfy new demands. The basic concept is straightforward, but the details are immense. Some of the more significant developments have been the use of lightweight materials, such as fiberglass and polycarbonate, which increase safety, improve handling, and lower emissions. In addition, computerized systems now control many automobile functions. This includes the engine, steering, braking, and other important safety features. Also, automobiles are now being built to be more environmentally friendly by using ethanol or other fuels that are cleaner and greener than gasoline.