Automobiles are motorized vehicles used primarily for the transport of passengers and cargo. They are often powered by internal combustion engines and fueled by volatile fuels such as gasoline, diesel, CNG or electricity. They have become the dominant mode of transportation, with 1.4 billion cars in operation worldwide and over 70 million new ones built each year. The automotive industry is one of the world’s largest industries and it produces a variety of vehicles that are designed for specific uses, such as passenger cars (which are used to carry people), commercial vehicles (trucks, busses and taxis) and special purpose vehicles like ambulances and fire brigade vehicles.
The automobile as a technology symbolizes both the promise and the pitfalls of the modern age. It is a complex technical system that has many sub-systems with specific functions, including the body, chassis, engine, drivetrain and control systems. It is also an extremely dangerous machine that can cause devastating injuries and death when it is operated improperly.
As safety regulations have progressively become more stringent, automakers have been forced to improve the overall vehicle design and the systems with which they are equipped. Most vehicles now feature a wide range of safety features that are intended to protect passengers and pedestrians in the event of an accident. Many of these technologies are now standard on most new cars, and they are beginning to make their way into more affordable used models as well.
A car’s design is driven more by consumer demands than by technical advances, although improvements in the body, chassis, engine, drivetrain, and control systems have helped to improve reliability, ride quality and comfort, fuel efficiency, and emissions-control technology. The automobile’s most basic problems — human drivers who make mistakes, wheels that lose traction when the braking or turning forces are too high, and a tendency to roll over under certain conditions — are still unavoidable.
The first car with a gasoline internal combustion engine was built by Siegfried Marcus, who created a crude model in 1870. This was followed by the Otto Cycle petrol engine by Carl Benz and his Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1885, which was the first to have an accelerator for speed regulation, a battery ignition system, a spark plug, and a radiator.
In the United States, Ransom Eli Olds introduced the assembly line concept with his Oldsmobile factory in 1902. During the 1920s and 1930s, American automobile manufacturers developed the modern car with its large, four-wheeled chassis and independent suspension, and they established global production networks to meet increasing demand.
In recent decades, a growing number of consumers have chosen hybrids or electric vehicles to reduce their environmental impact and save on gas prices. As a result, sales of conventional vehicles have declined while demand for alternatively-powered models has increased. These factors are expected to continue to shape the market in the coming years.