An automobile, or car, is a wheeled motor vehicle for passenger transportation that is powered by a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. It has four wheels and usually has seating for one to six people. Automobiles are manufactured by one of the world’s largest industries, and they remain the single most prevalent mode of personal transport. In recent years, car manufacturers have invested large sums to develop autonomous vehicles and electric cars.
During the early decades of the twentieth century, the automobile revolutionized American society. The automobile allowed urban residents to escape the city and enjoy the countryside, and rural dwellers to travel to cities for jobs and entertainment. New industries and services developed to support the automobile. Road construction became a major industry, and demand for vulcanized rubber soared. The automobile also helped spawn other industries such as the steel and petroleum industries, creating jobs for millions of Americans.
The first automobiles were designed and built by American entrepreneurs. The first successful gasoline-powered automobile was made in 1893 by bicycle mechanics J. Frank and Charles Duryea in Springfield, Massachusetts. By 1908, the Ford Motor Company had introduced its Model T and William Durant had founded General Motors. Twenty-five companies produced 2,500 automobiles in the United States that year, and by 1914 the number had grown to more than 485 firms.
During World War II, production of automobiles slowed as manufacturers focused on producing for the war effort. Automakers also suffered from technological stagnation because of the imposition of federal standards of automotive safety and pollution control, soaring gas prices, concerns about the draining of world oil reserves, and the increasing popularity of fuel-efficient, functionally designed, well-built Japanese small cars.
After the war, automobile production sped up, and by the 1960s most Americans had a car. However, quality deteriorated to the point that by the mid-1960s American-made cars were being delivered to retail buyers with an average of twenty-four defects per unit. Also, consumers began to question the aesthetics of nonfunctional styling at the expense of economy and safety, and to worry about environmental problems, including air pollution and the draining of the planet’s dwindling oil supply.
As a result, many consumers switched from expensive luxury models to less expensive, but still high-quality, family cars. Today, the average price of a new automobile is about $34,000, and it continues to rise. The automobile has become a symbol of success and social status. It has allowed families to bond and spend time together on long road trips, and it has given individuals more freedom and mobility than ever before. The car can be a powerful tool for personal and political expression, and it has enabled women to drive and use their cars as tools for independence and empowerment. Women like Nell Richardson and Alice Burke drove their cars with banners promoting “votes for women”. For these reasons and more, the automobile is an important part of our lives. Whether it’s for work, play, or a trip to the grocery store, having an automobile makes life much easier.