Few inventions of modern times have had a greater impact on the history, economy and social life of much of the world than the automobile. It has given individuals freedom of movement and allowed a great variety of leisure activities to become popular. It has also led to changes in housing, work, education and entertainment. The automobile has also caused damage to the environment, as exhaust from gasoline-burning cars releases pollutants and consumes energy, and it encourages sprawl, a form of low-density development that degrades the land.
The automobile is a complex machine with thousands of parts, which are arranged into several semi-independent systems to perform a variety of functions. One of the most important systems is the engine, which converts fuel into a form of energy that can move the car. The engine drives the transmission, which carries the power from the engine to the wheels. The wheels are supported by the chassis, which must be able to carry the weight of the car and respond to the conditions of the road surface. The suspension system consists of springs and shock absorbers, which allow the chassis to cushion the bumps in the road.
The arrangement and choice of automobile components depends on the intended use of the vehicle. For example, a car designed for speed may have more powerful engines and require more fuel than a sedan designed for economy. Similarly, a sedan may have more comfort features than a sports car. The choice of a front-wheel or rear-wheel drive system also influences the design of the engine and other automobile systems.
There are many advantages to owning a car, including the ability to travel independently, the convenience of having your own personal space and listening to your music at will. In addition, you can use it to get to work, school or shopping in a timely manner. But owning a car can be expensive as it requires routine maintenance, registration fees and parking spaces.
Passenger cars are the dominant mode of transportation, with some 1.4 billion in operation worldwide. In the United States alone, more than three trillion miles (five trillion kilometres) are traveled by passenger cars each year. The industry has been challenged by new government requirements, including safety features and highway rules, and by lower fuel costs from competing manufacturers. It has also been challenged by consumer demand for new styles and models, fueled by advertising campaigns promoting cars that are attractive, luxurious and functionally designed.
In the early years of the twentieth century, American automobile companies greatly outpaced their European rivals in reconciling state-of-the-art design with moderate price. Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal called the four-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower Model N (1906-1907) “the first true car of this class” because it was well built and affordable. Ford introduced the modern assembly line at its Highland Park, Michigan, plant in 1912 and was soon producing over a million cars a year. This enabled him to dominate the American market and, later, to challenge foreign competitors.