Automobiles are a key element of modern society. Almost everyone owns one and more than 73 million new automobiles were produced worldwide in 2017. The modern automobile is a complex technical system consisting of many subsystems with specific design functions, notably: body, chassis, engine, drivetrain, control systems, safety systems, and fuel/energy management. It is a major component of the global automotive industry and its underlying technologies include high-strength plastics, advanced steels and nonferrous metal alloys, electronic computers, and other cutting-edge materials. These technological advances were developed as the result of breakthroughs in science, technology, engineering, and other disciplines.
Automobiles can be powered by a variety of energy sources, but most are powered by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. In recent years, electric and hybrid automobiles have become increasingly popular. These vehicles use a battery or other power source to help propel the vehicle and recharge the electrical batteries when the vehicle is stopped. The next generation of automobiles may even be completely self-driving.
During the early part of the 20th century, the automobile helped transform American society in many ways. People gained freedom and leisure time as they could travel to work or other places without having to rely on others. In addition, they could visit their families and friends who lived far away. The car also changed the economy as businesses sprang up to serve people who wanted to buy and operate automobiles.
The automobile also ushered in changes to the law, such as highway laws and rules of the road. It led to the growth of services such as hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks. However, it also caused harm to the environment. The exhaust from the gasoline-burning engines contributed to air pollution. And the land used to build roads and cars detracted from natural habitats.
Another benefit of owning an automobile is that it provides a sense of security for your family. Having your own vehicle can save you time and money by not having to rely on public transportation, which can be unpredictable. Having your own vehicle can also protect you during emergencies, such as when your child is sick or your home’s plumbing breaks.
During the postwar period, the emphasis on nonfunctional styling and higher profits lowered quality and fuel efficiency. These factors opened the market to foreign manufacturers, especially Germany and Japan, which offered fuel-efficient, functionally designed automobiles at a price that was within the reach of middle class Americans.