The automobile is one of the most common ways to get around. It allows people to go places in a way that would be impossible or at least inconvenient without it. The invention of the automobile greatly increased economic and social mobility, making it possible for people to travel to work and school and to visit friends and family members. It has also brought new services and conveniences, such as gas stations, fast food restaurants, motels, amusement parks, and recreational activities. However, the automobile has some negative effects as well, including air pollution and car accidents.
The word automobile comes from the French for “horseless carriage.” The first such vehicles were powered by steam, electricity, or a battery, but they all suffered from limited range, inconvenient starting methods, and high operating costs. The gasoline-powered automobile eventually became the dominant model. The introduction of the assembly line allowed automobiles to be mass-produced and affordable for most families.
In the United States, the auto industry is dominated by the Big Three automakers—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—although entrepreneur Elon Musk has built Tesla into a major player in the market. The Big Three pioneered the use of modern manufacturing techniques and introduced a number of innovations that streamlined production and reduced prices. These innovations included the use of parts and components made from cheaper steel, more efficient engines and transmissions, lightweight chassis and body construction materials, and new methods for attaching and fastening components.
An automobile is a four-wheeled vehicle with seating for one to six passengers. The term is typically used to refer to passenger cars, but it can include trucks, vans, buses, and limousines. The word automobile is also used to refer to the underlying mechanical structure of the vehicle, such as the drivetrain and suspension.
The design of an automobile depends on its intended use. Automobiles designed for off-road use need to have durable systems with high resistance to overloads and extreme operating conditions. Vehicles designed for highway cruising require high-speed performance and optimized handling. Other factors that influence an automobile’s behavior include its center of gravity, the distribution of weight between the front and rear axles, and its engine configuration.
The main types of automobiles are sedans, sports coupes, hatchbacks, and utility vehicles. Some of these vehicles are equipped with all-wheel drive, which improves traction in poor driving conditions and enhances fuel efficiency. Other models have a rear-wheel drive, which enhances agility and cornering ability. Still others are designed to accommodate cargo. Some are convertibles, which allow the driver to switch between a traditional two-door cabin and a more spacious trunk. Finally, there are hybrids, which combine a conventional gasoline engine with an electric drive system to achieve both fuel economy and performance.