Few inventions in modern times have had as strong an influence on the history, economy, and social life of so much of the world as the automobile. Its influence extends to such important activities as work, leisure travel, and the distribution of goods. The automobile is a complex system of interrelated parts, and it embodies many engineering innovations. Its most essential components are the engine, power train, suspension, braking, wheels and tires, and chassis. The body, which analogously resembles the skeletal structure of the human body, supports these systems and provides safety, comfort, and protection from weather.
The word automobile derives from the French auto-mobile, meaning motor carriage. The first cars, built in the late nineteenth century, were essentially horse-drawn carriages with engines added. Today’s cars are sophisticated, highly engineered, and designed to provide a wide range of personal uses. Automobiles are a major industry in most countries, and their manufacture has become an important part of the global economy.
While there are some disadvantages to owning a car, such as the need for gas and maintenance costs, the positive aspects outweigh them. Cars enable individuals to travel long distances at speed and to go places they would not be able to reach on foot. They allow people to get to and from work on time, to visit family and friends, and to participate in other activities. They also give their owners a sense of independence from other people, since they do not have to depend on them for transportation.
Cars can also provide a sense of status, as they are a symbol of wealth and success for many people. The act of driving itself is a pleasure for many people, and the act of parking a car in front of one’s home can be a source of pride. Having a car can also make a person feel a sense of accomplishment because he or she has worked hard to get it.
Some automobiles are designed for utility, and others for style. The design of each type must take into account several factors, including the size and layout of the interior, the engine and its power, standards for safety and performance, the ability to accommodate passengers and cargo, aerodynamics or ways to reduce air resistance, and appearance. It is a challenge to design a single vehicle that can meet all of these needs at once, and it is often necessary to trade off some of these features in order to achieve a desired result.
Although many different kinds of automobiles exist, most are powered by internal combustion engines that burn gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. The first automobiles were steam-powered, but the gasoline-powered automobile was invented in Germany and France by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto, and Emile Levassor. The production techniques introduced by Henry Ford revolutionized industrial manufacturing, and the automobile has become an integral part of everyday life in the developed world. In addition to their personal use, they provide a means of transportation for police, fire, and ambulance services as well as a flexible distribution system for goods.