Automobiles are vehicles that are powered by internal combustion engines fueled most commonly by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. They are generally four-wheeled, have seating for one to eight people and run primarily on roads. Automobiles have a profound impact on society, and automobile engineering and automotive technology are major fields of study.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern car began to emerge in the late 1700s. However, it was not until the invention of a gas-powered engine that cars started to look like what we know today. Before the gas engine, cars were powered by steam or electric power and were often slow-moving, cumbersome, and difficult to start. Once the gas engine came along, however, the car exploded in popularity.
Eventually it became almost impossible to imagine modern life without an automobile. In the United States alone, three trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) are driven by passenger cars each year. The automobile also transformed the way we live and work, creating new industries and jobs to support the production and maintenance of automobiles as well as providing access to services such as restaurants and motels. It even altered the landscape of residential areas, as civil engineering grew to handle the infrastructure requirements for new road construction and development of suburbs.
Today, there are more than 73 million automobiles on the world’s roads and the industry that produces them is one of the largest in the world. Moreover, the specialized field of automobile engineering is among the most important and sophisticated of all industrial applications.
Although the automobile was first invented in Europe, American manufacturers soon dominated the industry in the early 1900s. They developed revolutionary manufacturing methods such as assembly lines, which enabled them to produce cars quickly and cheaply enough to be affordable for most middle-class families. By the 1920s, Ford, GM and Chrysler emerged as the “Big Three” automakers.
The advent of the automobile brought with it a host of new social and environmental problems. Air pollution and dwindling global oil supplies were just two of the issues that resulted from the mass adoption of this mode of transportation. Automobiles also helped create suburban sprawl, which shifted many working class families away from cities and into the countryside. It took decades for governments to catch up with the problem and put in place legislation to curb pollution and oil consumption.
Despite these challenges, the automobile continues to be an indispensable part of modern life and the future will undoubtedly see further developments. It is likely, for example, that electric and autonomous cars will become more common as the market shifts away from traditional gasoline-powered models. These more efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles will also be more affordable to consumers. In addition, there are other ways to reduce the cost of automobiles, including carpooling and sharing vehicles. These strategies reduce the number of vehicles on the road and limit their wasteful use of fuel and resources.