Automobiles are motor vehicles, usually with four wheels, used for transportation of passengers or cargo. They are often powered by an internal combustion engine or electric motor. However, they can also be propelled by a wheelless vehicle known as a bicycle.
While automobiles have been known since the 15th century, it was not until the 19th century that the first truly self-propelling road vehicle was constructed. The first such vehicle was a three-wheeled machine with steerable front wheels built by Edward Butler.
In the 1880s, German inventor Karl Benz invented the first internal combustion engine and the spark plug, and the first automatic transmission. This new technology enabled the development of the automobile. But, the first autos were not fully completed.
After a series of improvements, automobile manufacturers began to improve the body of the car, the chassis and the drivetrain. These systems were designed to enhance the safety and performance of the cars. Other innovations included the design of a battery ignition system, and the invention of a clutch, which is a device that connects the engine to the transmission. This device prevents unnecessary stress on the engine and the wheels, and allows the load to take off slowly.
Automobiles, originally developed in Germany, were sold and produced in the United States in the early twentieth century. This was due to the increasing need for automotive transportation in the country, as well as the relative economic advantage the United States had over Europe.
After World War II, the automotive industry exploded in the U.S., thanks in part to the invention of mass production techniques and the higher income of American consumers. The country’s more equitable distribution of income encouraged the mechanization of industrial processes.
By the mid-1920s, the automobile industry had shifted from being a national industry to a global one. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler had emerged as the “Big Three” automakers.
Aside from improving the mechanical performance of their vehicles, the auto manufacturers also made efforts to improve their safety and emission-control systems. Manufacturers embraced sleek iconography of streamlining, and presented aircraft-inspired body styles to the public.
In the United States, the automobile industry was still in its infancy when the Great Depression hit. Many manufacturers rushed to produce automobiles for the war effort. With an abundance of cheap raw materials, the mechanization of industrial processes in the United States was encouraged.
Despite the challenges, the United States quickly surpassed the rest of the world as the leader in the automobile industry. This helped keep prices low. Moreover, the automobile industry’s mass production methods made it possible for the manufacturers to split the market into smaller segments, giving them more market share and competition.
When the automobile was invented, the concept was that the vehicle could be used for both light and heavy traffic. Although the definition of an automobile is not entirely clear, most definitions of the term say that it is a vehicle with two or four wheels and is capable of transporting a maximum of eight people.