Automobiles are cars, trucks, vans, and other vehicles that use gasoline or other fuels to power an internal combustion engine to move on the road. The automobile is a symbol of modernity and has had a profound impact on society in the 20th century. It is estimated that there are over 1.4 billion cars in operation worldwide. This figure is expected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2030. In addition, the number of alternatively powered vehicles has increased significantly. These include hybrid, electric, and autonomous vehicles.
The first automobile was invented by Karl Benz around 1885. Other inventors followed with their own designs, but it was Benz who developed the concept of using an internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline. Initially, his car was expensive and only available to the wealthy, but by 1913 he had introduced the Model T, which was affordable for middle class families. The production methods he introduced revolutionized industrial manufacturing and made the automobile accessible to most of the world’s population.
Over the years, the automobile has become a symbol of social status. In the early 1900s, two women — Nell Richardson and Alice Burke — traveled across the country in their cars to advocate for women’s rights and freedom of movement. They decorated their cars with “votes for women” banners, which was pretty bold considering that at the time, women did not have the right to vote.
With the advent of the Model T and other mass-produced models, the automobile has become a common sight on America’s roads and highways. The United States has a vast territory and a large population, which makes it essential to have a good means of transportation. The absence of tariff barriers encouraged interstate sales over a broad geographic area, and cheap raw materials and skilled labor provided an incentive for the mechanization of manufacturing processes.
Throughout the years, the design of the automobile has continued to change as technology has evolved. Various research and development programs have focused on improving vehicle safety, fuel economy, and handling. In some cases, these improvements are dictated by law, as in the case of requiring seat belts and airbags. In other cases, changes are driven by consumer demand. For example, buyers of SUVs demand high levels of comfort and ride-handling features that are typically not found on sedans.
In the 1930s, as market saturation occurred simultaneously with technological stagnation, automakers concentrated on producing for the war effort. During World War II, automakers produced one-fifth of the nation’s wartime production. Postwar concerns about nonfunctional styling, questions of quality and safety, and the draining of the world’s oil reserves reduced consumer demand for new automobiles. This opened the market to foreign manufacturers who offered functionally designed, well-built, small cars that were economical to operate. These cars largely replaced American models that had not been redesigned in decades.