Automobiles are wheeled vehicles designed to run primarily on roads and carry passengers. They can have seating for one to seven people and usually have four wheels. The automobile revolutionized society and culture in the United States by allowing people to live anywhere in the country as long as they could afford to travel there by car. It also led to the growth of industries and services related to road transportation. However, the automobile contributed to environmental problems by producing exhaust and consuming petroleum. It also caused the destruction of open land that was used for highway construction. Government regulations and laws were passed to address these issues.

The first automobile was invented in 1885 by Karl Benz of Germany. He was inspired by Daimler’s internal combustion engine that powered a three-wheeled vehicle. Benz’s invention was not very successful, and his company struggled to survive until he improved the design and lowered the cost of his Motorwagen in 1904.

Ransom E. Olds introduced large-scale production line manufacturing of affordable automobiles by introducing the assembly line at his Oldsmobile factory in 1902. This revolutionized automobile production, making them available to middle-class American consumers and creating a demand for automotive technology development that would be greater than ever before.

After the 1920s, cars were no longer a luxury but became an essential part of modern life, and the car industry became one of the nation’s most important industrial sectors, generating more revenue than steel, agriculture or petroleum industries. The automobile provided a vital economic link to rural America and helped develop urban areas. It also allowed people to enjoy leisure activities in a variety of settings, stimulating recreational and tourism industries such as motels, hotels and restaurants. It also brought new schools and medical facilities to rural communities, and it ended the isolation of farm families.

Auto manufacturing benefited from the new technologies developed in other industries, such as rubber, steel and plastics. Until the end of the 20th century, automobiles were continuously redesigned and improved to keep up with consumer demands. However, engineering was often subordinated to questionable aesthetics and nonfunctional styling, and quality declined. The era of the annually restyled road cruiser came to an end with the imposition of government standards for safety and fuel economy, as well as concerns about the use of oil that was draining dwindling world supplies.

The modern automobile has many different shapes and sizes. The most common type is a sedan, which has four doors and can seat between two and eight people. Other types include SUVs (sport utility vehicles), hatchbacks, station wagons, minivans and passenger vans. Automobiles are generally powered by piston engines, but they can also be powered by other types of engines, including rotary engines such as Mazda’s Wankel engine. Most modern cars have electronic ignition and automatic transmission. Other standard features include air conditioning, power windows and seats, and antilock brakes. Most cars are assembled by hand, but some manufacturers use an automated production line.