A modern automobile, also known as a motor car or a passenger vehicle, is a wheeled vehicle that is designed primarily for the transport of passengers and is powered by an internal combustion engine using a volatile fuel. It is a complex technical system that employs many subsystems with specific design functions. These include the automobile body, chassis, mechanical drive and electrical systems. The automobile industry is a global enterprise that has become the backbone of the modern consumer goods economy. It is also a major producer of pollution and is responsible for the consumption of large quantities of oil. The automobile is one of the most significant inventions in the history of human civilization. It has revolutionized life in the United States, bringing new freedoms for families that were previously dependent on public transportation. It has been a major contributor to the economic growth of the country and to its social development.

The term “automobile” is derived from French words auto- + mobile, meaning self-propelled carriage. The earliest automobiles were steam-powered and pulled by horses. A defining innovation of the automobile was the use of gasoline as fuel for the internal combustion engine, which made cars more efficient and practical than their horse-drawn predecessors. By 1920, the automobile had overtaken the streets and highways of Europe and America and today, more than 1.4 billion vehicles with seating for up to seven passengers are in operation worldwide. In the United States alone, people drive about three trillion kilometers (almost five trillion miles) per year.

Karl Benz is credited with inventing the automobile in 1885, but it was Henry Ford who brought mass production techniques to automotive manufacturing. By utilizing assembly lines, Ford was able to produce cars at a fraction of the cost of previous models. This allowed middle class families to afford automobiles, and the automobile has since come to symbolize American independence and mobility.

Automobiles have evolved from a simple, functional transportation device into an intricate technical system that employs thousands of components to perform a wide variety of functions. This has occurred as a result of advances in electronic computers, high-strength plastics and alloys, and improvements in the performance of traditional materials such as steel and nonferrous metals. In addition, the advent of new technologies has opened up a world of possibilities for the future of the automobile, including alternative fuels, advanced batteries, and electric motors.

The automobile was a catalyst for change in twentieth-century America, becoming the backbone of a new consumer goods economy and a major source of employment. It was also a vital supplier of energy for the steel and petroleum industries, and consumed large amounts of other industrial products. Moreover, the automobile helped democratize life in America by allowing women to travel independently and pursue employment opportunities that had previously been closed to them. During the 1910s and 1920s, women were able to promote their cause of voting rights for women by driving around with banners that read, “Votes for Women.” In this way, they were able to reach places that would have been unreachable on foot.