Automobiles are wheeled vehicles that are powered by a motor. Generally, they are designed for running primarily on roads and are constructed principally for the transportation of people rather than goods. As of 2002, there are around 1.4 billion automobiles in use worldwide and over three trillion miles are driven by Americans every year on average. The automobile is a key factor in shaping modern life as it allows people to travel to work, school and social events without having to rely on public transport. In addition, it has become one of the major consumer items in society and a major source of employment.
The automobile was first perfected in Germany and France towards the end of the nineteenth century by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto. The 1901 Mercedes, designed by Wilhelm Maybach for the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, deserves credit as being the first truly modern motorcar in all essential respects. It was a thirty-five-horsepower machine that weighed only fourteen pounds per horsepower. It had a top speed of fifty-three miles per hour and a range of sixty-three miles.
In the United States, Henry Ford invented the assembly line and Model T automobile which revolutionized automotive manufacturing and allowed car makers to produce cars much faster and at lower cost. This made it possible for middle-class families to afford to own an automobile and this significantly changed the way that American society developed. The automobile became the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society and by the 1920s it ranked as one of the top six industries in terms of value added to the economy. It also was a huge employer and consumed large amounts of steel and petroleum.
Currently, automobiles are the dominant mode of passenger transportation and are used to transport goods. They are also commonly used in emergencies to get to the hospital or for a fire call. There are many different types of automobiles that are categorized based on their intended usage as being passengers, goods or special usage vehicles such as ambulances and police cars.
Throughout history, the automobile has greatly influenced culture and human civilizations. The freedom that it provides for personal travel has led to changes in society such as the rise of leisure activities such as amusement parks and hotels, and it has contributed to the development of cities and towns as they now have wide open spaces with easy access to the automobile. The automobile has also brought about new laws such as seatbelts and highway rules, and has impacted the environment by contributing to air pollution and the destruction of undeveloped land. Even today, it is difficult to imagine a world without the automobile. A world without the automobile would be a very different place indeed.