Automobiles are vehicles that are powered by an internal combustion engine. They typically carry two or more passengers. In some cases, they may also be equipped with sidecars. Vehicles with more than seven seats are called limousines, minivans, and buses.
Modern automobiles are highly complex technical systems that use thousands of component parts. These include the body, chassis, drivetrain, emission-control systems, and the engine. The technology behind them has evolved from breakthroughs in existing technologies. Automotive manufacturers also employ research and development engineers to create new designs and improve safety, emission-control, and chassis systems.
The automobile industry was a key force in the transformation of twentieth-century America. It established the habit of mass personal “automobility” and was the lifeblood of the petroleum industry. In 1982, it provided one out of every six jobs.
In the early years of the automobile, it was a two-wheeled, steam-driven vehicle. But by the turn of the century, its inventors had moved on to gasoline-fueled cars. Gasoline-powered cars offered a faster, easier-to-maintain option, and they were relatively inexpensive. By 1925, three-quarters of all new cars sold in the United States were purchased through credit.
Mass production techniques by Henry Ford changed the way the automobile was manufactured. Ford’s “moving assembly line” facilitated rapid production of cars. This enabled the company to outpace competitors in creating a state-of-the-art design at a moderate price. As a result, automobiles became more affordable to middle-class families.
After World War II, the automobile industry in Europe and Japan soared. Manufacturers introduced new designs more often and started to split the market into smaller segments. By the mid-1960s, cars were plagued by 24-defect per unit, and aesthetics were questionable. Nevertheless, the automobile industry remained the world’s largest consumer of many industrial products.
As the automobile became a part of American culture, the demand for it rose. The industry was a major catalyst in the growth of tourism and the tourism-related industries. Additionally, the automobile brought urban amenities to rural America. Eventually, the demand for motor vehicles exceeded the supply.
The American manufacturing tradition helped lower the cost of cars. The first commercially produced American-made gasoline car, the Model T, was sold in 1908. With the advent of the internal combustion engine, the automobile quickly took the lead in the automobile market. By 1927, the coupe had sold 15 million units.
The automobile industry was the backbone of the consumer goods-oriented society of the 1920s. However, its popularity was thwarted by a lack of good roads and decent transit systems. Moreover, the United States enjoyed a more equitable income distribution than did Europe.
By the beginning of the 1970s, the automobile industry had become a worldwide phenomenon. An estimated 70 million passenger cars are built each year. Of these, about one-quarter are made in the United States.
The modern automobile industry is a world leader in innovation, with a number of major companies operating in the United States, the U.K., and Germany. These companies develop technological systems to ensure a better driving experience.