Automobiles are motor vehicles that carry passengers. The word is derived from the Latin word ad vehicula, meaning “carrier” or “transportation.” Some definitions of automobiles include cars that run primarily on roads, have four wheels, seat one to eight people, and transport people rather than cargo.
The invention of the modern automobile changed the way people live, making it possible to travel longer distances quickly and conveniently than ever before. The automotive industry has since diversified, with new technologies being introduced every year. Automobiles are now available in a variety of sizes and styles, from tiny economy cars to luxurious sports sedans. In addition, some cars now run on alternative fuels, including electricity, hydrogen, and natural gas. The history of the automobile includes many important milestones. The first gasoline-powered automobiles appeared in the early 20th century, and by 1920 they had largely replaced horse-drawn carriages on streets and highways throughout the world. Many people today would find it inconceivable or at least highly inconvenient to live without access to a car.
While the automobile was being developed in Europe, the United States had a strong advantage over its European counterparts because of American industrialist Henry Ford’s development of the assembly line. He used the concept to produce a large number of Model T automobiles at affordable prices, enabling middle-class Americans to buy a car. This in turn stimulated demand for other carmakers’ products and encouraged technological innovation.
Exactly who invented the automobile remains somewhat controversial. Earlier accounts credited German inventor Karl Benz with the creation of the first true automobile in 1885 or 1886, but other figures also contributed to the development of the automotive industry.
Once the automobile was in wide use, a host of improvements were made to improve their performance and reliability. Some of the most significant developments included the electric ignition and electrical self-starter (both created by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910-1911), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes. Other important innovations were the carburetor and the electric horn.
Since the mid-1950s, car manufacturers have produced vehicles with a growing variety of features and options. Some of these are not essential to the operation of the vehicle, such as air conditioning and navigation systems, but others make it more convenient to use the automobile. A variety of controls have been added to the steering wheel, dashboard, and console, and many of these are operated by a computer. The automobile’s original pedals were physically linked to the brake mechanism and throttle, but these connections have been replaced by electronic controls. Other changes have included replacing physical knobs and switches with secondary controls, and adding dedicated fuses and circuit breakers to prevent electrical overloads.
The future of the automobile is uncertain. Some analysts believe that it will continue to dominate transportation, although other experts see increasing competition from autonomous and electrical vehicles. Some cities are already experimenting with congestion charges for private automobiles, and there are plans for the introduction of rail-based public transportation in some places. As the world’s oil supplies dwindle, there may be shortages and long lines for gasoline, but automakers are working on ways to produce automobiles that can run on other types of fuel.