Automobiles, also known as autos, are four-wheeled passenger vehicles that are powered by an internal combustion engine. These vehicles are used for both freight and passengers transportation. The branch of engineering that deals with the manufacture and technologies of automobiles is called automotive engineering. Automobiles are a vital part of modern society, and most people can’t imagine living without one. They allow individuals to travel to work, school and other destinations that aren’t easily accessible on foot or by public transportation. In addition, automobiles allow people to live in different places in relation to their careers and expand their social circles.
The history of the automobile begins with the invention of the internal combustion engine in the late 1800s. Several inventors worked on this technology in the years that followed, and by 1910, gasoline-powered automobiles had replaced steam and electric vehicles. The early automobiles were expensive, but as production methods improved and demand rose, the price fell, and by 1920, a middle-class family could afford to own one.
Since then, hundreds of companies have produced automobiles. The American industry grew quickly, in part because of the country’s vast geographic area and population density, and partly because of its manufacturing tradition. The absence of tariff barriers encouraged sales over a wide geographical area, and the availability of cheap raw materials allowed the manufacture of large numbers of cars at reasonable prices.
Various types of automobiles have been developed in response to changing lifestyles, needs and tastes. For example, automobiles that are primarily intended for off-road use require durable, simple systems and high resistance to severe overloading and operating conditions. Products designed for high-speed highway transport need passenger comfort options, increased engine performance and optimized high-speed handling and stability.
Another significant development was the application of industrial production techniques to automobiles. Ransom Eli Olds introduced this approach at his Oldsmobile factory in 1902, and the concept was dramatically expanded by Henry Ford, whose production line enabled the mass-production of affordable automobiles. The assembly line method of manufacturing greatly increased efficiency and productivity, and it reduced the cost of a car until it became affordable for most families.
The era of the annually restyled road cruiser ended with the imposition of government regulations regarding safety, fuel economy and pollution emissions; escalating gasoline prices following the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979; and consumer demands for fuel-efficient, functionally designed, well-built small cars. This was a response to concerns about automobile over-abundance, the growing threat of air pollution, and the desire for cars that were as comfortable as possible, yet easy to maneuver in urban areas. This led to the emergence of the SUV and the smaller compact car, both of which have remained popular to this day.