Automobiles are self-propelled vehicles that travel on land and carry a limited amount of cargo. They are designed to seat two to six people and have a variety of systems for driving, navigation, safety, and control. Unlike trucks, which are primarily used for the transport of goods, automobiles require much more sophisticated and expensive mechanical systems. An automobile’s design is influenced by both technological advances and consumer demand for a specific model. Research and development engineers are employed to develop new technologies that improve the body, chassis, engine, drivetrain, and a host of other systems.
The automotive industry has revolutionized society and created new jobs, including those in the manufacturing of components and services such as gas stations and convenience stores. The car has become the symbol of modern life, and it is difficult to imagine a world without it.
Although the automobile was invented several hundred years ago, it was not until the late 1800s that it became a widely used form of transportation. In 1904 Ransom Eli Olds introduced the assembly line concept at his Oldsmobile factory, and Henry Ford followed suit at his Ford Motor Company in 1910. These processes greatly accelerated production and made automobiles more affordable to middle-class families.
In the early 1900s many different manufacturers experimented with the automotive market, developing new engines and features for their cars. Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach fitted a four-stroke, liquid-fueled internal combustion engine to a vehicle called the Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1886 and received a patent for it in January of that year. It is generally agreed that Benz’s automobile was the first modern motorcar in its basic design.
Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin of France also built a prototype with an Otto cycle engine in 1883 and received a patent for it. Their vehicle, however, suffered an accident during its first test run, and the pair never produced another automobile.
Other important technical advances include electric ignition (developed by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910-1911), four-wheel brakes, and independent suspension. Some automobile designers have even explored rotary engines, such as those of Mazda, with only limited success.
While automobiles are designed for use on paved roads, they also need to have adequate off-road capabilities and have excellent handling in high speeds. This requires specialized engineering for the chassis, differentials, shock absorbers, and transmission, as well as the use of special tires and lubrication.
Although the automobile has many benefits, it has also caused problems and led to changes in social attitudes and laws. For example, the automobile encouraged suburbanization, a shift in work patterns, and relaxed sexual attitudes. In addition, traffic jams and accidents have created demands for licensure, safety rules, and road improvements. Despite these drawbacks, the automobile is a vital part of the global economy and will continue to play a major role in the future. New forces, however, are rapidly changing the nature of the automobile. It is believed that the Age of the Automobile will soon meld into an Age of Electronics.