The automobile is a four-wheeled passenger vehicle that carries its own motor. It is the most widely used means of transportation in human history. It enables people to reach faraway jobs, social and recreational events, and business opportunities. It has brought about many new industries and improved living conditions in cities and towns. In addition, it is an important part of the American family lifestyle and culture. Automobiles have also contributed to the expansion of freedom and individualism, but they have also created problems in society such as pollution and dependence on foreign oil.
Exactly who invented the automobile remains a matter of controversy, but most historians credit Karl Benz with creating the first car. By the end of the nineteenth century, Europeans had perfected the automobile. But it was Henry Ford, a self-made man with a modest background, who made the automobile affordable for the masses and introduced mass production techniques. The resulting automobile revolution created a new industry and transformed American life.
In the 1920s, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler dominated the auto market. Their production and sales soared, with models such as the Model T, the Model A, and the Hudson Hornet proving to be popular. Ford’s innovative assembly line allowed for the manufacture of cars at a much lower price than before, and his mass production approach was copied worldwide.
By the 1940s, however, automakers had reached a point of market saturation and technological stagnation. Moreover, manufacturers channeled their resources to wartime production. The postwar era saw the rise of the Japanese automobile industry. The Americans were still producing cars, but the quality of their products had deteriorated. In addition, questions began to surface about the environmental costs of automobiles — air pollution and a drain on dwindling world oil reserves.
Despite these drawbacks, the automobile continues to play a vital role in the American economy and society. It accounts for 27 percent of U.S. travel and generates nearly as much energy as the entire global economy. It is estimated that about 1.4 billion cars are in operation throughout the world.
A modern automobile has become a complex technical system with thousands of design subsystems. Its basic components include an engine, drive train, chassis, body, and control systems. New technical developments, including high-strength plastics and advanced alloys of steel and nonferrous metals, are revolutionizing automobile design and manufacture.
Pros: The Automobile has opened up new employment opportunities and expanded the scope of a person’s work environment. It also allows people to visit friends and relatives in distant places with ease.
Cons: Most cars are powered by gasoline, which releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Drivers can limit greenhouse emissions by buying a fuel-efficient vehicle and keeping it well maintained.
The automobile has changed the way we live, but it is no longer the driving force it once was. Other forces — the electronic media, the laser, and the computer — are now charting the future of human travel.