Automobiles, also called automobiles or motorcars, are four-wheeled vehicles designed primarily for passenger transportation and powered by internal combustion engines burning volatile fuel. They are the dominant mode of transportation in most developed nations, with an estimated 1.4 billion cars in use worldwide. They are usually equipped with a variety of safety systems. Modern vehicles are highly complex technical systems, and their design is subject to continual improvement. Each successive generation is generally a step forward in power, speed, handling, safety, and ease of operation.
The automotive industry is one of the most important sectors in world economies. It contributes to the economic viability of many ancillary industries, particularly steel and petroleum, and it provides jobs in numerous cities and towns. The demand for automobiles has driven the development of new roads and transportation systems, and services such as gas stations and convenience stores have grown to meet consumer needs.
The scientific and technological building blocks of the automobile date back several centuries, with Christiaan Huygens’ gunpowder-fueled internal combustion engine in the late 1600s and Gottlieb Daimler’s Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1886. During the first half of the 20th century, American manufacturers introduced mass production techniques that made affordable cars widely available. Ransom Eli Olds’ 1901-1906 model debuted the assembly line concept, and Henry Ford’s Model T runabout sold for less than a year’s income for most middle-class Americans.
The automobile radically transformed the way people live, work, and play. It is now almost impossible to imagine life without an automobile.