Few inventions in modern times have had such a profound impact on people, communities, and the global environment as the automobile. A car, or motorcar, is a self-propelled vehicle for passenger transportation that has four wheels and uses an internal combustion engine powered most often by gasoline (a liquid petroleum product). Other types of engines are used in some vehicles, and there are also alternative fuels.
Automobiles are built for a wide range of purposes and come in many shapes and sizes. The basic components of all automobiles, however, are the engine, chassis, transmission, and electrical systems. Each of these has several subsystems that work together to support the operation and performance of the automobile.
Passenger cars are the most common type of automobile, accounting for more than three trillion miles (almost five trillion kilometres) of travel each year. They are a key part of a country’s infrastructure, connecting residents to jobs, schools, hospitals, and shopping centers. They are also the primary means of transportation for most families, and manufacturers offer hundreds of different models to suit various lifestyles.
The earliest automobiles were horseless carriages, but the modern form of the automobile was invented in the late nineteenth century. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot of France designed the first true automobile, a wheeled machine that ran on steam, but it had a heavy weight and a short range and needed to be driven at low speeds. Later, manufacturers produced cars with electric motors, but these were less efficient and had to be recharged often.
In the early twentieth century, Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques that revolutionized automobile manufacturing. American manufacturers soon came to dominate the market, with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler becoming the “Big Three.” The booming automobile industry brought about new jobs in cities and towns, encouraged suburban development that degraded the landscape, spawned traffic congestion, and generated demands for licensing and safety regulations.
OPENS UP THE WORLD
Few things change people’s lives more than the ability to travel freely for long distances in relative comfort. Owning a car opens up work possibilities, expands family ties, and makes it possible to visit friends and relatives in far-away places. It is also easier to travel to a favorite vacation spot, and it allows people to rediscover pristine landscapes.