Automobiles are a complex technical system for transporting people. They usually have four wheels and are propelled by an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. The automobile has been one of the most important developments in modern times, and a key part of our everyday lives. It has also been a major source of controversy.
The technical building blocks of the modern automobile date back several hundred years, to the development of a type of gunpowder-powered internal combustion engine sparked by a spark. However, the first modern automobiles were not built until toward the end of the nineteenth century, when Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nikolaus Otto improved on their earlier inventions to create the automobile as we know it today.
By the 1920s automobiles had become a dominant force in American life. In that period, nearly every household owned at least one vehicle, and 87 percent of those vehicles were new. Almost all of them were manufactured by the Big Three companies—the Ford, General Motors and Oldsmobile—using the production-line method pioneered by Ransom Eli Olds at his factory in 1902.
In addition to making cars available to the middle class, the automobile changed social attitudes. Women, who had been confined to domestic roles, became confident and independent as drivers. They could drive to work in their own cars and visit friends. They could also travel and take vacations to faraway places. Two women, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, drove across the country in 1916 to advocate for women’s right to vote, decorating their cars with banners saying “votes for women.”
One of the most beneficial aspects of owning a car is that it saves time. Having the ability to cross town in a matter of minutes allows you to spend more time doing the things that you enjoy, like going shopping or spending time with your family. It can also help you in emergency situations when you need to get to the hospital or a friend’s house in a hurry.
Automobiles have played a vital role in the growth and development of our society, and will continue to play a significant role in the future. They will change as technology changes, but they will always be an essential part of our everyday lives.
The most significant challenge for the automobile industry is to reconcile technological advance with consumer appeal. Consumers have become accustomed to the luxury of high-end, feature-laden vehicles. But engineers have made the mistake of focusing on features, rather than on how those features are used. The result has been a steady increase in the number of defective vehicles, and a drain on dwindling world oil reserves. The Big Three have carried Sloanism to its illogical conclusion: each year their models become longer and heavier, more expensive to buy and operate. But the increased unit profits that Detroit’s manufacturers make from gas-guzzling road cruisers come at a high price in terms of environmental pollution and public safety.