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Automobiles are wheeled vehicles, usually four-wheeled with seating for one to seven people, powered by an internal combustion engine and used primarily for transportation over roads. The automobile was invented in the late 1800s and is arguably one of the greatest inventions in human history. It changed the way people live and work in America and many other parts of the world. The automobile gave people more freedom to travel and access to new jobs and other opportunities that were not available before. It also helped create industries and services that support and depend on the automobile like gas stations, repair shops and convenience stores.

The automobile has become a symbol of the promise and pitfalls of modern life. It can be a source of pride and status, but also it can lead to poor health, family problems and environmental degradation. The automobile is the dominant mode of personal transportation in the developed world. There are approximately 1.4 billion automobiles in operation worldwide, and it is the primary means of transporting people over long distances for work and leisure. The automobile is the single largest consumer of petroleum, and it is a major producer and consumer of steel, rubber, and other industrial products.

A wide variety of automobiles are available to consumers. Some are designed for city driving and aimed at fuel economy; these have less body structure, less power, and smaller tires than the sports cars designed for high speeds and greater handling ability. Some automobiles are designed to transport cargo rather than passengers and are often described as trucks, vans or buses. Specialized automobiles are also manufactured for specific tasks such as fire engines, police vehicles, ambulances and delivery trucks.

The design of the automobile is continuously evolving. It is a highly complex system with many different factors that affect performance. The most significant changes are related to fuel efficiency, safety and design. These improvements have come from research and development engineering, the introduction of better and safer materials, the use of advanced electronics and the development of alternative fuels. The result is that the average automobile is now much more efficient than it was in the past.

In the United States, the development of the automobile was largely the work of Henry Ford, who introduced mass production techniques that transformed the industry. By the 1920s, the automobile was the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society and provided one out of six jobs in the country. The automobile was a key force in the spread of suburbia, where families moved out from urban centers and built houses on large tracts of land surrounded by green grass lawns. This development reflected the American predisposition for individual freedom of movement and action, but did not always include clear definitions of the responsibilities and duties associated with that freedom. This confusion spawned numerous problems, including environmental pollution and social disintegration. A more coherent and sustainable vision of the automobile is needed for its continued role in modern society.