Automobiles are cars, trucks, and other land vehicles that are designed to carry passengers or cargo. They are usually driven by an internal combustion engine that runs on a volatile fuel. Most of them have four wheels and can seat one to eight people. The term automobile is derived from the Greek words auto (self) and molektikon (car, carriage). Automobiles have revolutionized transportation by opening up new possibilities for work and travel. They have also influenced the way people live. Before cars were invented, moving even a short distance meant hours of buggy riding over rough roads. Once cars were developed, people could move about much more quickly and easily, making possible the development of suburban areas.
There are 1.4 billion automobiles in operation worldwide. They can be found in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are made to be stylish, while others are built for speed or utility. Automobiles have become a major part of the global economy and society, providing jobs in manufacturing, retailing, service, and repair. They also spawned industries that produce parts, such as rubber, metal, and plastics, and services such as gas stations and convenience stores. In addition, they have changed the world’s culture, fostering new leisure activities and spawning industries such as restaurants, hotels, and amusement parks.
Many different inventors contributed to the development of automobiles. Karl Benz is widely credited with inventing the modern automobile, using a four-stroke internal combustion engine to power his Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1886. He was followed by American businessman Henry Ford, who innovated mass production techniques with his Model T, lowering the price of the car and making it available to middle class families. Ford’s business practices were later copied by other companies, such as General Motors and Chrysler.
The earliest automobiles were steam powered and included such vehicles as the horseless coach, the phaeton, and the steam roller. The first true gasoline-powered automobiles were designed by Siegfried Marcus, who used a two-stroke engine to drive his ottomobile in 1860. Later that year, Siegfried’s brother, Franz, began producing a more sophisticated design, the four-cylinder, thirty-five-horsepower Daimler.
During the late 1800s, German and French engineers like Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, and Nicolaus Otto continued to improve upon these designs. By the early 1900s, German manufacturers dominated automotive design, with the 1901 Mercedes-Benz being considered the first modern motorcar in terms of size, performance, and comfort.
In the twentieth century, the automobile grew in importance to the point where it now accounts for more than half of the world’s manufactured goods. However, it no longer acts as a progressive force for change. Other technologies, such as the computer and the laser, are charting the future. Still, the automobile has radically transformed the lives of millions of people and is a significant influence on our daily lives. Some of these effects are positive, while others are negative. Automobiles can cause traffic congestion, pollute the air and damage property, and increase road wear. They can also be dangerous if they crash.