An automobile is a self-propelled vehicle that can carry passengers or goods on four wheels. It is usually a vehicle with an internal combustion engine and a suspension system that allows the driver to drive at high speeds. Automobiles are most often fueled by gasoline, but they also can be electric.
Although automobiles can be used for commercial purposes, they were first designed for passenger transportation on land. They were created in the late 1800s, when German and French inventors perfected the technology for vehicles that were capable of carrying passengers. One of the most prominent early automobile manufacturers was Gottlieb Daimler, who had the largest and most centralized automobile factory in Europe by 1909.
Pedal cycles, which were typically equipped with a small spark ignition engine, were the precursors to modern automobiles. But these early models lacked the horsepower and range of the cars of the future. A number of companies converted these pedal cycles to motorcycles.
The Model T, introduced by Ford in 1908, was one of the first American-made gas-powered automobiles. However, it failed to match the sales of competitors such as the Chevrolet and the Oldsmobile. As the country became more urbanized, the popularity of the Model T declined.
Auto manufacturers started to introduce new products such as automobiles with drop-frame construction and automatic transmissions in the 1930s. By the end of the 1940s, most post-World War II cars were all-steel and had hydraulic brakes. Many were manufactured for the military, and manufacturers funneled resources to the war effort.
A series of innovations and improvements in production equipment allowed the Ford Motor Company to produce hundreds of cars each day. In addition to producing cars at affordable prices, Henry Ford revolutionized the manufacturing process by installing assembly lines at his factory. These techniques soon spread to other American automobile makers.
In the United States, the automobile industry became one of the country’s most important industries. In 1980, it had become global in size. There were over 500,000 automobiles on the road in 1996. With the rise in demand following the 2011 Asian economic crisis, automobile sales soared to 1.43 million vehicles in 2012. This is the highest number of new cars sold in the history of the nation.
During the Great Depression, automobile manufacturers lost much of their production. They resorted to mechanization and cheaper raw materials. Manufacturers such as General Motors, Chrysler and Studebaker, however, survived the downturn. Eventually, the “Big Three” automakers emerged as dominant players in the industry.
Automobile production in the United States and Japan surged in the aftermath of World War II. Sales were boosted by pent-up demand and government subsidies. Stricter limits on emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons were imposed by the European Union and California.
In addition to the development of automotive manufacturing in the United States, Europe and Asia saw a spike in the number of new vehicles on the roads. The introduction of new products, such as the motorcycle, sparked a series of road trials.