Automobiles (or cars) are wheeled vehicles that are powered by an internal combustion engine and designed for use on roads. They are usually built with seating for one to six people and have four wheels. An automobile’s design depends on its intended use. For example, an automobile designed for off-road use must have durable, simple systems that can withstand severe overloading and extreme operating conditions, while an automobile designed to travel at high speeds needs passenger comfort features and optimized high-speed handling.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the automobile go back several hundred years, as evidenced by the fact that Leonardo da Vinci created designs for transport vehicles in the fifteenth century. The modern motorcar was perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto, and Emile Levassor. Initially automobiles were powered by steam or electric power. Steam cars ran well at low speeds but were heavy and cumbersome. Electric cars ran smoothly but had a limited range and required frequent recharging.
In the early 1900s, Henry Ford introduced mass production techniques that made automobiles affordable for the general public. The Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal called the eighty-horsepower, four-cylinder Model T “the first instance of a motorcar that reconciled state-of-the-art design with moderate price.”
Today, automobiles have become the backbone of a consumer goods-oriented society. They are also an important economic and political force, as shown by their dominance of the American economy. In 1982, automobiles accounted for over a third of America’s value-added production and for nearly half of the nation’s petroleum products. In addition, the automobile has opened up new opportunities for women, enabling them to hold jobs outside the home and to participate in social activities that were previously restricted to men.
The car has also helped women gain equality in their relationships. In the 1910s and 1920s, women began to display “votes for women” banners on their cars in support of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in federal elections. Women can now drive wherever they want, when they want, and not have to rely on men for transportation.
As time goes on, we will continue to see significant changes in the world of automobiles. New technology will influence the way we commute, shop, and spend our free time. These advances are all part of a larger trend in which the automotive industry is transforming from an industrial era into a technological one. We are moving into the age of the robots, lasers, and computers and a period in which the automobile will no longer be the driving force of change. Nevertheless, the automobile will still play a critical role in our daily lives. The ability to cover long distances quickly and easily opens up a variety of options for work, shopping, and visiting friends and family. So, we should always appreciate the value of the automobile and keep up with the latest technological developments in this sector.