Automobiles are powered by an internal combustion engine, usually fueled by gasoline (petrol) and driven by the rotation of the wheels on its axles. The modern automobile is a complex technical system with thousands of interrelated subsystems, designed for specific design functions. The automobile industry is one of the largest industries in the world and it has become a major source of jobs, both direct and indirect. Millions of people work in factories where cars are made, and many more at the gas stations, restaurants or motels that cater to automobile drivers.
The modern automobile was developed by a combination of breakthroughs in technology and changes in society and habits. The need for a means of transporting the growing population of the United States over its vast land area and its hinterland of isolated communities ensured that there would be great demand for an automobile. Cheap raw materials and a lack of tariff barriers also encouraged large scale manufacturing in the United States.
Cars are now the main mode of passenger transportation in most countries. In the United States alone, they are driven for more than three trillion miles each year. Cars have changed the way we live and our economy. They have made it possible to work and play in different parts of the country and even the world, and to visit friends and family who may be far away.
Without a car, it would be difficult and inconvenient to do many of the things we take for granted, like going shopping or visiting friends and family. Having a car gives us the freedom to travel wherever we want and whenever we want, regardless of weather conditions. And, it allows us to spend more time with our children and spouses instead of commuting or dealing with strangers on public transportation.
The first practical automobile, built in Paris in 1789 by the French engineer Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, was a heavy, three-wheeled steam-driven carriage. It had a boiler that projected in front and could only travel at 4 mph (6 km/h).
In the nineteenth century, several companies produced gasoline-powered automobiles. The most successful was the Model T, introduced in 1908 by American car maker Henry Ford. Ford’s revolutionary assembly line techniques lowered the price of his Model T to a point where it was affordable for middle class families.
During the 20th century, manufacturers have produced an ever-growing variety of automobiles to meet every need. The latest development is the semiautonomous or autonomous automobile, a computerized vehicle that greatly assists the human driver or in some cases takes over completely. Currently, these vehicles are being tested on the roads and highways of the world. Eventually, they will be available for mass production and sale. These cars may be able to drive themselves or communicate with other automobiles and pedestrians. The ability to operate without a human driver has the potential to reduce accidents and traffic congestion, while increasing highway safety and efficiency.