Automobiles are a complex technical system employing many subsystems with specific design functions. The modern automobile combines thousands of components, which have evolved from breakthroughs in technology including electronic computers, high-strength plastics, and new alloys of steel and nonferrous metals. In addition, the automotive industry has been influenced by environmental and safety laws, as well as by competition among automobile manufacturers throughout the world.
In the early twentieth century, the automobile became an indispensable part of daily life for people of all economic backgrounds. The automobile gave people the freedom to travel to work, shop, go on vacation and visit friends and family. It also brought new services such as motels, restaurants, and entertainment facilities. However, the automobile has also contributed to problems such as traffic congestion, air pollution, and increased dependence on foreign oil.
Karl Benz, of Germany, is widely credited with inventing the modern automobile in 1885. His Benz Patent-Motorwagen used a four-stroke internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle. His invention inspired other inventors and engineers to develop their own designs. Initially, automobiles were expensive luxury items for the wealthy. By the 1910s, however, Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques that made them more affordable for middle-class families. By 1920, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler were the “Big Three” automakers.
Ford’s Model T runabout sold for $575 in 1912, less than the average annual wage. This enabled the middle class in America to buy a car and become mobile. Americans seized this opportunity to spread out from the cities into vast suburban areas. Each family could now have a home with a yard, surrounded by green grass.
In addition, there are special cars for various purposes such as crane vehicles on construction sites, road rollers in highway construction and fork-lifts in warehouses. Moreover, there are cars for sports such as racing and karting. Some people also use automobiles to transport goods such as food, drinks and furniture.
The automobile was a powerful force for change in American society. It fueled an increasing predilection, especially in the United States, for personal freedom of movement and action. Without any clear guiding principles about how to live together as a nation or community, this freedom often turned into selfishness and a lack of social responsibility.
After World War II, when automobile manufacture was halted and gasoline and tires were rationed, people used their existing cars more, which left a large pent-up demand for postwar models. Detroit’s Big Three took Sloanism to its logical conclusion, producing ever-larger automobiles with more gadgets and features, even as sales declined. This trend continued as the auto industry merged with other industries and grew into a global enterprise by 1980. The automobile still plays a major role in our lives, but it no longer acts as a progressive force for change. Instead, new technologies are charting a different future for us. The Age of the Automobile is fading into an age of electronics.