Automobiles, more commonly known as cars, are motor vehicles used to transport people or cargo. They are typically powered by internal combustion engines, electric motors or a combination of both. They can be found on the roads and highways of many countries, and provide a convenient and quick means of transport. They are governed by a variety of state and federal laws, and have given rise to new industries and businesses.

The origins of the automobile go back several hundred years. In the late 1600s, a Jesuit missionary in China named Ferdinand Verbiest built an early self-propelled vehicle. In the 1800s, a Frenchman named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot designed and built a steam engine that could attach to a scow. This invention was called the “Amphibian Digger.”

It was in the 19th century that automobiles really took off. Karl Benz of Germany invented the first modern car in 1886. Earlier attempts at motorized carriages included those run by steam, electricity and gasoline. Steam-powered automobiles could reach high speeds but had a limited range and were difficult to start. Battery-powered electric cars could travel a little farther than steam-powered vehicles but had poor performance, limited capacity and recharging stations were hard to find. Gasoline-powered automobiles quickly became the most popular of these three options, as they offered more speed, convenience and range than both electric and steam-powered vehicles.

The advent of the automobile encouraged family vacations and sparked the development of tourism-related industries, such as service stations, motels, and restaurants. The automobile also ended rural isolation and brought urban amenities, such as schools, hospitals and shops to farmers and their families. Road construction peaked in the 1950s with the introduction of the Interstate Highway Act, inaugurating the largest public works project in American history.

As the demand for automobiles grew, so too did the need for a system of regulation and control. Traffic jams and accidents soon began to occur, and demands for licensure and safety regulations were made on the state level. Engineering was often subordinated to the questionable aesthetics of nonfunctional styling, and production quality deteriorated to the point where American cars were being delivered to retail buyers with an average of 24 defects per unit.

Today, automobiles are manufactured by a large number of manufacturers worldwide. The industry is competitive and global in scope, and the automotive economy is a major component of world trade. The economic impact of the industry is felt around the globe, and its environmental and social impacts are profound. The automobile has shaped our culture and society in many ways, and continues to do so to this day. It has become a symbol of independence and personal freedom, as well as of our ever-increasing consumption of resources. The automobile has also created jobs and spawned entire industries that support its operation, maintenance, and repair. It has also helped to shape our ideas about how to live together as a society. It is for all of these reasons that the automobile has such a powerful place in our lives.