The automobile is a powerful force in twentieth century America. It became the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society, driving economic growth and providing jobs. It also influenced the development of ancillary industries such as petroleum and steel, which were fueled by its demand.
The modern automobile, usually referred to as a car or motorcar, is a four-wheeled vehicle designed to transport people primarily for personal transportation. It is propelled by an internal combustion engine using a volatile fuel such as gasoline or diesel fuel and has a number of subsystems with specific design functions.
Automobiles were first perfected in Germany and France, but it was American Henry Ford who revolutionized automotive manufacturing by introducing the assembly line. His innovative techniques reduced the price of his Model T so that middle-class families could afford to own a car. By the 1920s, America had a dominant market share in the world automobile industry. Its share diminished as the industry funneled resources to defense needs during World War II and manufacturers sought foreign markets where consumer demand was growing rapidly.
Although cars have many benefits, they also create problems such as air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. They release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere when they are driven and require oil, which is extracted from the Earth using energy-intensive processes. It is estimated that vehicles account for 27 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, some people choose to limit their car use by using public transportation or walking.