Automobiles are self-propelled passenger vehicles that use an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. They have four to eight wheels and seat one to eight people. The automobile industry includes many ancillary industries that provide jobs and services. The automobile is also the basis of many technological advancements. It has revolutionized life in the United States and around the world.
Karl Benz of Germany is usually credited with the invention of the modern automobile in the late 1800s. Other inventors and engineers followed his lead with their own designs. The automobile came to dominate America in the 1920s as the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society. The car also provided economic stability to middle class families who could afford the luxury of personal transportation. It also prompted the development of better roads, which in turn led to the growth of industries like rubber and oil.
Despite their numerous benefits, automobiles come with a few disadvantages. Most of these problems stem from poor design. Engineers in the postwar era placed more emphasis on aesthetics than on economy, safety, and quality. As a result, American-made cars had an average of twenty-four defects per unit. The automobile also caused pollution and was a drain on dwindling petroleum supplies.
In addition, the automobile has given individuals the freedom to travel to places they would otherwise not reach. This has opened up the world to many people who live in urban areas and want to escape to the countryside, or those who live in rural areas and wish to visit city centers.
Modern life is unthinkable without the automobile. Whether it is taking the kids to school, going shopping, or visiting friends, most of us can’t imagine a time when we didn’t have a vehicle at our disposal.
The automobile is not just a tool for getting from one place to another, but it is also a symbol of our societal values and an expression of individuality. Two women, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, went on a pretty bold road trip in 1916 to advocate for women’s right to vote. They drove across the country and decorated their cars with “votes for women” banners.
As the automobile grew in popularity, companies began to expand their production plants to meet demand. In 1914, North Carolina got its first Ford plant in Charlotte. By the early 1920s, the automobile industry was a major employer in the city and was booming worldwide. In fact, by the end of that decade, there were more than a million cars on the streets of the United States. During the Great Depression, however, that number dropped to about 100,000. This is still well below the current figure of about 73 million vehicles. The United States leads the world in car production, with a market share of nearly one-third. The top manufacturers are General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. However, Japanese automakers have gained a considerable amount of ground in recent years, as their innovative and high-quality vehicles have become increasingly popular.