Whether it’s shopping, visiting friends, or going to work, the automobile allows people the freedom to get where they need to be, when they want. This freedom gives people more time for themselves and for the things they value most.
The automobile has profoundly changed American life. It has given working families access to jobs, places of residence, and new services such as restaurants, motels, hotels, and amusement parks. But it has also brought with it new government requirements and safety features, as well as harm to the environment from gas exhaust, air pollution, and the use of land for highway construction.
History credits Karl Benz with inventing the first modern motorcar in the late 1800s, but by the early 1900s American businessman Henry Ford had developed mass-production techniques that made automobiles affordable for middle class families. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler dominated the market by 1920, and production rose worldwide after World War II.
The automobile has become a central fixture of daily life, and there are now an estimated 1.4 billion passenger cars in operation worldwide. Modern automobiles are complex technical systems that employ thousands of subsystems with specific design functions. The specialized components, including the body, chassis, powertrain, and engine, are integrated into a unit that is capable of transporting one to six people at high speeds over long distances. Many of the most recent innovations in automobile technology have derived from breakthroughs in electronics, electronic computers, high-strength plastics, and new alloys of steel and nonferrous metals.