The automobile is one of the most important, complex and universal of modern technologies. It is a four-wheeled vehicle with an internal combustion engine powered by liquid petroleum (gasoline) or by natural gas. The modern car has thousands of individual parts arranged in multiple semi-independent systems, similar to the way the human body is structured. It can travel long distances and provide the flexibility and mobility demanded by a variety of lifestyles and industries. It carries passengers and cargo, performs as a mode of transportation and as a source of recreation and play, provides jobs, and contributes to the economy in many ways.
OPENS THE WORLD: The automobile provides the mobility necessary to cover vast distances, which greatly expands opportunities for employment, social contact and leisure activities. It also allows families to live in suburban communities away from cities, and provides them with more space in which to pursue their own private hobbies. The automobile has revolutionized the way people live, work and play in America. It has shaped the design of towns and cities, provided the infrastructure for roads, traffic lights, and refueling stations, and created new industries that supply parts and fuel, as well as services like garages and convenience stores. It has influenced personal and family behavior, changing attitudes toward privacy, community and social responsibility.
It spawned new recreational and leisure activities, including golfing, hunting, camping and motorsports. The automobile has transformed the economy, providing billions of dollars in direct and indirect income to its manufacturers and users. It is a major employer and is a major consumer of steel, rubber, oil, gasoline and other industrial products. It has contributed to the development of many ancillary industries, such as rubber, asphalt, glass, metals and plastics. It is one of the largest consumer goods in the world and it has become a symbol of America’s newfound emphasis on consumerism.
A TECHNOLOGICAL EXPLODING: The development of the automobile has been an extraordinarily rapid and dramatic phenomenon. The automobile grew from Gottlieb Daimler’s adaptation of a horse carriage with an engine to the Ford Model T in just a few decades. It has since come to dominate society. Today’s automobile is an objective improvement in nearly every measurable way over the cars of yesterday. Its engines are more powerful and fuel efficient; its chassis, suspension and brakes handle better and keep occupants safer; and it features more advanced safety and communication systems.
The automobile is a remarkably complex system that is subject to continual improvement. But during the postwar era, engineering was subordinated to nonfunctional styling at the expense of safety and economy, and quality deteriorated to the point that by the mid-1960s American made cars were being delivered to consumers with an average of twenty-four defects per unit. As a result, the market has been penetrated by foreign cars ranging from the German Volkswagen “Bug” to the fuel-efficient, functionally designed, and well-built small Japanese cars. These have gained popularity with Americans.