Automobiles are a fundamental aspect of modern life. Few inventions have had such a profound influence on the history, economy, and social life of the world. Almost all people use automobiles every day, and it is difficult to imagine a world without them. The automobile is one of the most complex of modern technologies, but it has a very simple structure: four wheels and an internal combustion engine fueled most commonly by gasoline (liquid petroleum).
The design of an automobile must balance many factors. It must be durable enough to withstand the rough treatment of off-road use, and it must have good passenger comfort features. It must be efficient in terms of fuel use and engine performance. It must be attractive in appearance and easy to operate. And it must be cost effective to produce.
Some of the factors that drive automobile design are the choice of whether the vehicle is front or rear-wheel driven, the type of suspension system used, and the size of the engine. Many of these systems are interconnected, and each has a significant effect on the car’s operation.
Exactly when and who invented the first automobile is a matter of debate. Some historians have credited Leonardo da Vinci. Others have pointed to the efforts of Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin of France, who installed an internal combustion engine on a three-wheeled tricycle in 1883. But it was Henry Ford who developed mass production techniques that made the automobile affordable for middle-class consumers, and the era of personal transportation as we know it began.