An automobile is a self-propelled passenger vehicle. It usually has four wheels and is powered by an internal combustion engine that burns a volatile fuel. It is designed to run primarily on roads and can seat one to eight people. Despite their many downsides (including pollution and automobile accidents), cars have become indispensable for modern life in cities, small towns, and rural areas with few public transportation options.

Automobiles have been around since the 1700s, but it was in the late 1800s that they started to look a lot like what we drive today. Thanks to a number of inventions, including the internal combustion engine, the electric starter, and the assembly line, cars became increasingly affordable. By the 1920s they were a crucial component of a new consumer-oriented society, generating much higher sales than other industrial products. They also became the backbone of a major new industry, requiring enormous amounts of petroleum and steel and providing jobs for millions of Americans.

Until the early 1960s, automobile production was so rapid that car design was almost a side effect of technological development. But by the 1970s, market saturation had coincided with a period of technological stagnation. The basic features of modern cars-electric ignition, the electric self-starter (developed by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910-1911), independent suspension and four-wheel brakes-all appeared during this period.

By the early 1980s, the United States and Japan shared leadership in world automobile production. In the 1990s, however, a number of factors began to limit the industry’s growth. These included government-imposed standards for safety and environmental protection; increasing energy prices; and rising competition from manufacturers producing compact, fuel-efficient, functionally designed vehicles.

The automotive industry continues to thrive, though it faces serious challenges. For example, there are continuing concerns about the environment, safety, and security. The industry is working to develop more efficient engines, to use lighter materials, and to reduce the amount of air pollution produced by automobiles. It is also developing alternative power sources for vehicles, such as electric motors and hydrogen fuel cells.

If you are interested in learning more about the automobile, please read this article from the Encyclopedia of American History. Then take a moment to share your own insights about this fascinating subject in the comments section below. Thank you! This page was last updated on November 14, 2014.