An automobile (or car) is a four-wheeled passenger vehicle driven by an internal combustion engine using a volatile fuel. Automobiles are built principally for the transportation of people and may also be used to carry small amounts of cargo. There are some five billion automobiles in operation worldwide, with over three trillion miles (almost five trillion kilometres) being traveled by them each year. They are a vital element of the global economy and the primary means of transportation for many families, with a typical American travelling more than six thousand miles each year. The automobile has revolutionized the way we live, providing more mobility and opening up a range of new possibilities for both work and leisure activities.
The modern automobile is a complex technical system that employs thousands of subsystems, each with specific design functions. These systems are based on innovations such as electronic computers and high-strength plastics and alloys of steel and nonferrous metals, and their designs are determined to some extent by government safety standards, air quality legislation, and energy efficiency requirements.
The automobile’s history dates back several hundred years, although it was not until the late 1800s that the scientific and technological building blocks for this revolutionary new type of transport came into place. The first automobiles were run by steam, electric power, or gasoline. Steam-powered vehicles had a limited speed and were difficult to operate. Electric cars, which shared a 38 percent market share in 1900, were expensive and required regular recharging. Gasoline-powered engines, however, became the dominant form of automobiles in the early twentieth century. The automobile’s development was accelerated by the introduction of Ford’s moving assembly line in 1913, which allowed manufacturers to produce large numbers of cars very quickly and at affordable prices.
After World War II, the automobile exploded in popularity and became central to American culture, giving rise to suburban sprawl, interstate highways, and drive-in movies. By the end of the century, there were over 26 million automobiles in operation in America and an even larger number around the world. However, market saturation coincided with a period of stagnation in both product and production technology: most of the major innovations in automotive engineering had been introduced by the 1920s (electric ignition and self-starter, closed all-steel bodies, hydraulic brakes, syncromesh transmission and low-pressure balloon tires).
The main advantage of owning a car is its ability to help you travel long distances for work or for play. It allows you to be more flexible with your schedule, and gives you the option of living in one area while working in another. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for parents with children, as it makes it easier to transport them from school to practice and to friends’ homes. It also opens up a range of recreational options that would not be possible without an automobile, such as road trips and family vacations. In addition, having a car can open up more employment opportunities and broaden your social circle.