An automobile is a type of vehicle that is primarily used for transportation purposes. It is usually a four-wheeled vehicle that has a self-propelled motor, mainly propelled by gasoline.
The modern automobile is a complex technical system that includes subsystems with specific design functions. It also employs thousands of component parts that have evolved with time or from new technologies, such as electronic computers and high-strength plastics.
Almost every feature of an automobile has its origins in scientific and technical developments that go back several hundred years. During the early 19th century, scientists began to develop the internal combustion engine that is now at the heart of an automobile’s power system.
Some of these innovations took place in Europe and in the United States. German inventor Karl Benz, for example, built the world’s first three-wheeled automobile with an Otto Cycle engine in 1885. Benz was also responsible for introducing the first electrical system in an automobile.
Another innovation that transformed the automobile was Henry Ford’s introduction of mass production assembly lines in his factory. This revolutionized industrial manufacturing and reduced the price of automobiles until they became affordable to most middle-class families.
It takes about three to five years from the time a new automobile is conceived until it is on the road. During this time, designers use computer-aided design equipment to create concept drawings and clay models that help them visualize what the car should look like.
Styling experts, aerodynamic engineers and other specialists evaluate the designs to make sure they fit public tastes. They may also do crash tests to ensure that the car can withstand a collision.
Automobiles are built from a variety of materials, such as metal, plastic, and composite materials. The components that are most commonly used in an automobile are the body, chassis, and engine. The arrangement, choice, and type of the components depend on the use of the automobile, its intended purpose, and the availability of fuel.
In addition to the body, chassis, and engine, a modern automobile must include a range of systems that control its operation. Some of these are power train systems that allow the vehicle to move; others are control systems that control such functions as fueling, brakes, steering, and suspension.
Other systems in an automobile are safety and emission-control systems. These are designed to protect the driver and other people from accidents. They also prevent pollution.
During the 20th century, many improvements to internal combustion engines were introduced in the United States and in other countries. These included the Wankel engine, the stratified charge, and the split-cycle rotary engine.
These inventions led to better gasoline-powered automobiles that were more efficient than their predecessors and less expensive to buy. They made it possible to build larger, more powerful cars that could travel faster.
These advancements helped fuel the automobile’s growth during the twentieth century, making it the largest industry in the world. However, as the century ended, critics began to focus on its environmental impact, urban sprawl and high cost of living. Moreover, the American automobile industry’s hegemony was challenged by the growing popularity of alternative forms of transportation.