Automobiles are wheeled vehicles that carry a passenger. They are powered by an internal combustion engine and operate primarily on roads. Generally, they have four wheels and seat one to seven people. The automobile has revolutionized the world and greatly impacted social life in many ways. It has brought about suburban development, drive-in movies, and fast food restaurants. It has also increased convenience in daily activities, such as grocery shopping and visiting friends or relatives. However, the advantages of owning a car should be weighed against the associated costs, including the cost of the vehicle, fuel and maintenance.
The first automobile was invented by Karl Benz in 1885. He fitted a gasoline-fueled, four-stroke, liquid-cooled engine into an existing horse carriage. Benz’s design was not as sophisticated as later cars, and he did not patent his invention. Other inventors and engineers developed their own designs and built vehicles. Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin of France, for example, installed an internal combustion engine on a tricycle. During their test run the tank hose exploded and the entire vehicle “shook itself to pieces,” according to Malandin’s own words.
Karl Benz’s and others’ innovations led to the automobile becoming the dominant mode of transportation in the United States and Europe by the early 20th century. It caused the development of new industries that provided jobs and supplies for a growing number of vehicles. New services, such as gas stations and convenience stores, sprang up to serve the increasing needs of car owners. In addition, the automobile gave individuals more personal freedom and access to places that were previously inaccessible or at least highly inconvenient to reach without a car.
During World War I, American manufacturers produced several million military vehicles and war materiel in support of the nation’s efforts to defeat Germany and Austria-Hungary. After the war, the automobile continued to be a vital component of U.S. economy and society. In particular, Ford innovated modern industrial manufacturing methods and the assembly line by producing the Model T, which by 1927 had been sold fifteen million times. In addition, he lowered the price of the car to a point that made mass personal “automobility” possible for middle-class families.
Since the late 1940s, car production has increased rapidly to meet rising consumer demand for more and better vehicles. In addition, a growing recognition of environmental problems has caused some consumers to seek vehicles with lower fuel consumption and emissions. These trends are expected to continue. Nevertheless, technological advances are still being made in automobile design and performance. Research and development teams at all major automobile companies are continuously working to improve the body, chassis, engine, and drivetrain of their vehicles. They are also exploring new fuels and alternative energy sources. These innovations will continue to shape the future of the automobile industry and affect everyday life. The automobile is an essential part of modern life, but it remains to be seen whether its promise will outweigh its disadvantages.